Friday, October 7, 2011

'Art of War' - Mommy's Strategies in Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

Being a WAHM means I’m with my boy almost all the time. But at this stage where he’s beginning to exert his independence and the fact that he’s reaching the so-call terrible twos, you can imagine the daily battles I have to face. Sometimes, I think he must have taken a few courses in ‘How to Say No’ and ‘How to Be Assertive’ while in the womb (or else, it can get kind of boring in there, doesn’t it?).
If you can’t think of what that entails, here’s a list (the compressed version) of our everyday battles: 
  • Refusing to brush his teeth
  • Refusing to nap when he’s obviously tired and cranky
  • Refusing to change diaper, especially when he has pooped – sometimes midway through the changing, he would kick his legs furiously and a few occasions, his feet landed on the poop.  So these days, it’s a team job – the helper will try to distract him (or to hold him down when required) while I change his nappy.
  • Refusing to bath or insisting on bathing in a bathtub when all I intended was a quick shower
  • Refusing to get dressed after his bath – he prefers running around naked; a few times, he even ran to a corner and pee!
  • Playing with things I told him not to (like with the bathtub in picture above)

The list goes on and on, and getting him to accomplish some of these tasks has become an exercise in patience and creativity.

But motherhood is all about on-the-job-learning. So in this new chapter on toddler tantrums, I’m happy to have discovered some useful strategies, and I'm hoping to get more creative as we move along.

Tactics and strategies I've used:
  1.  Distraction, distraction, distraction. When he starts a tantrum, such as insisting on having something which I’ve told him a firm ‘no’, I will distract him with something else quickly. It’s works almost all the time.
  2. Offer options/ alternatives. When he started going into the kitchen daily to take a small metal pot to play, I began looking for an alternative. I found an old rice cooker inner pot (my helper scratched it so badly I feel it’s not safe for use) and asked him if he would like to play with that. He happily took it and no longer goes to the kitchen to find the small pot.

    For this tactic, I usually give minimal options – mostly up to three choices - so it doesn’t turn into another battle.
  3. Make it fun. Kids love having fun right? So if he refuses to do something, I’ll see if I can turn it into a game e.g. he refuses to put on his clothes, so I say mommy can’t decide what he should wear and asks him to help. I’ll then bring out two, three pieces for him to choose and while he’s at that, I’ll point out the colours or pictures on the clothes and talk about them to distract him further.
  4. Use reward/bribe (I do it sparingly). Give him a reward when he complies with something but I try not to do this too often so he doesn’t get the idea that he can bargain with me. I do this with the major battles e.g. when he refused to sit in the car seat (for safety reasons, I insist on this) or to take medication, I’ll use his favourite food/fruit as a reward (I’ve learnt to carry snacks when we go out, more as a form of ‘bribe’ just in case there's a major outburst).
  5. Compromise. Instead of saying ‘no’, sometimes I think a compromise works wonder e.g. it’s his bedtime but he insists on reading. So I tell him we’ll read together a while and then he will go to bed.  So five to10 minutes later, then I’ll tell him time’s up, we’ll read again tomorrow and the lights will be off.

Regardless of the tactics, it’s important to recognise what battles are worth fighting in the first place. Things like safety and health, I won’t compromise. But when he made a mess of the house, I just learn to be more relaxed about it and remind myself he’s just a little boy and he wants to have fun. Before bedtime, I'll get him to help pick up the toys and put them back in place. 

Instead of having two of us upset, it's my goal to deal with the tantrums with as little drama as possible. It's easier said than done, since I'm quite impatient. However, compared to getting my boy to obey everything I expect of him (which is not possible to begin with), it's even more important for me to create a supportive, encouraging, positive and happy environment. 

At the end of the day, I believe one fundamental step to managing the tantrums better is in being able to control my own emotions and knowing how to respond positively in the situation, and I'm working on it.


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