Thursday, 15 October 2015

Growing out of tantrums

Cartoon by Basley

Today, I caught up - on the phone - with an old friend that I've not spoken to in ages. Way too long. She's known my kids since they were small, so there were lots of questions and fillings in about where they're at and what they're doing these days. And also a lot of reminiscing about different stages we went through, the kids and I, and the involvement she had with them - an un-asked for loan helped me get No.1 out of the school where he was unhappy and into the university school for his final year, and that couldn't have happened without her help. 

She made me realise, in the telling, that if anyone asked me for my parenting philosophy - which I'd not really considered in any containable way - I'd have to come down to it being all about logic. This wasn't something calculated. Definitely not something I sat down and thought about before I put it into action. It was something I arrived at by accident, often when I had my back hardest against the wall when they were trying something on and I was desperate. 

Logic takes a lot of the angst out of dealing with tough situations. Allowing for the fact that most kids will keep arguing long after it's sensible when they're trying to prove a point or really want something, it also robs them of fodder for most arguments. 

For instance, No.2 was a hard nut to crack with acting out. Unlike No.1, who's a bit of a control freak, No.2, when his dander was up, really didn't care what anyone thought, so was eminently capable of acting out no matter where we were. The horrors of the public toddler tantrum are all too well known to most parents, and we had more than our fair share of those. I did walk away and leave him writhing and screaming on the floor in supermarkets when he lost the plot - many times. I endured the 'bad mother' glares that were shot at me at point blank range by the holier than thou bystanders too. The reality was, as long as No.2 had me engaged, he was going to keep going - while his vocal cords lasted! Walking away becomes the only defence. There comes a point though, when that all changes. 

I remember the occasion - in yet another supermarket - when he lost the plot over something - what it was, I can't remember... He must have been 9 or 10 by then. I was aware of the looks - hard not to be. But I realised that the condemnation wasn't being directed at me. It was landing fair and square on HIM. I had an epiphany that day, and had the presence of mind to deliver it to him. Speaking VERY quietly - because that's all they hear when they're sounding off and kicking the trolley - I got very close to his face and informed him that if he thought he could shame me into doing what he wanted by chucking a tantrum in the supermarket then he needed to do a very fast rethink. He wasn't getting ANY sympathy from passers by, because I was getting all of that. He was too big for me to be blamed for his bad behaviour at that stage. He was clearly old enough to know much better. Having told him that, I grabbed the trolley and moved on. He was VERY shocked. I remember that. He shut up fast too, and scuttled after me. 

Did it stop the tantrums? Not straight away. He was too much in the habit of them, and too darned stubborn to give them up straight away. But reminding him that he was creating a situation that got ME a lot of sympathy, while he gained nothing, did cut them short and slowly they lessened. It got so that I could shoot him the death stare - Dragon Dad calls it my 'school teacher look' - and he'd swallow down whatever was about to erupt. 

Cause and effect. Consequences. Hit them with logic. It's really hard to argue against clear logic. 

You want a note for the teacher to excuse the homework not having been done? Really? And WHY wasn't it done? Oh, that's right, you decided, despite reminders, that playing cricket with the neighbourhood kids, followed by mucking around in your room instead of just getting it done was a better option. You'll get into trouble without a note? I'm sure you is that MY problem? It's not my problem, it's your problem. YOU didn't do the homework. I didn't do anything to stop you doing it... YOU made that decision. So YOU need to tell the teacher and deal with whatever she decides is an appropriate consequence. That's not fair? HOW is that not fair? YOUR homework, YOUR decision, YOUR consequence. 

Logic. It's a beautiful thing. 


  1. Agree with the logical consequences. I have been known to use the same methods; e.g. in your example, I probably would have written the note, but with exactly what you had said there: "didn't do their homework because they made poor choices/time planning/didn't listen to reminders etc." I have actually done that with teachers, letting them know that the family gave the child ample opportunities to get their work done and the wrong choice was made. The note is always accompanied by either a phone call or email to the teacher to explain the circumstances and let them know that I am fine with any reasonable consequences that may occur from the homework not being done.
    I found the two-prong attack (home+school) reinforced the lesson and we rarely had a recurrence of the issue. When parents and teachers sing the same tune, it leaves little opportunity for shrewd teens to manipulate them too. No point in lying about what happened because we all know!
    The other benefit of this style of parenting is that I didn't have to get angry or lose my cool. It was all matter-of-fact logic (as you point out). Any major emotional stress from getting angry would only worsen my chronic illness and the only loser would be me. That's unsustainable so I certainly agree with your methods, Kaz.

    1. That's exactly how I arrived at these methods, in the end, Jodie - so I could reduce the chances that I'd get cranky and lose it, which wasn't going to fix the situation, and was going to add to my already considerable stresses...and with a chronic illness in the mix, it just doesn't do to go there.
      I think I did write the odd note to that effect at one point - fuzzy memory! I know I was in pretty regular contact with the boys' schools, particularly No.2, so usually we were all on the same page, which is so very important.