Thursday, July 8, 2010

Managing Toddler Tantrums: Kai vs. the Experts

Lately, I've been reading some books on managing the toddler tantrum. According to the "experts", it helps to acknowledge what your toddler wants and mirror their emotion, so that they feel "heard". And then, once they know they've been heard, you can redirect them to another activity, and they will stop flipping out because they feel were listened to and are now happily onto another activity. Because, you know, toddlers are easily redirected.

Maybe they are. I don't really know. I only have the one. But, based on my sample size, I would say that toddlers are far less flexible then these books give them credit for. Or less forgetful. And, also, at least some toddlers (maybe one in particular) are less interested in being heard, and more interested in getting their way, or at least making sure I don't get my way. Just saying.

Take last night for example. It's bedtime, and we head into Kai's bedroom to do a last diaper change and put on her PJs. I open the PJ drawer and grab her red fleece PJs. "No", Kai says. Fine, she can choose her own PJs, I just want her to get dressed. "Green?" I say. "No," she replies. I go through the rest of the fleece PJs in her drawer (it was cold last night... hence, the fleece). Purple? No. White? No. "Kailey, those are your only choices." "NO -- POLKA DOTS," she screams. Well, the polka dot PJs were dirty and in the dirty clothes. I have no idea how she remembered the ONE other color of fleece PJs we own, but, she did and those were the ones she wanted.

I tried what the books say, I acknowledged what she wanted. I mirrored her distress. And, she did stop whining and looked at me with this expression that said, "yes... you seem to be getting it..." But, when I tried then to redirect her towards picking out a book while I slipped her green PJs on her... all hell broke loose. She screamed, more pissed off then before (because she had clearly been tricked out of her tantrum when I pretended to get what she was saying and then turned around and denied her the very thing I supposedly had understood her to want!). I abandoned the books and wrestled the PJs onto her. I won (I am bigger). The green PJs were on. Victory!

She continued to whine in distress, tugging at the collar of the green PJs in an effort to tear them off. I decided to go back to the advice in the books -- maybe distraction would work better now that she had some PJs on, I reasoned. I grabbed the polka dot PJs out of the laundry and, again, acknowledged/mirrored her desire to wear them... but also showed her that they were wet and dirty, and told her the green PJs were clean. Kai stopped crying, looked over the polka dot PJs, pointed to the dirty spots. It was working!! She was calming down because I had acknowledged what she wanted but explained that they were dirty. She was getting it. Then, she started examining the green PJs she was wearing with some intensity and, after a minute or two, pointed at the tiniest little spot of brown something on the zipper and, narrowing her eyes at me, shouted, "DIRTY! DIRTY!!" Siiiiiggggghhhhhh.

Since she wasn't crying anymore (just feigning indignation), I decided to move onto redirecting her, steering her into the bathroom to brush her teeth and then back into her bedroom to pick out stories. She settled in. We read the stories. Ahhhh.... the PJ battle was over.

Once the stories were read, Kai turned to me and said, "purple." Uh-oh. "Purple what?" I said, knowing full well that this whole time she had continued to be fixated on the damn PJs. She had clearly decided that if the polka dots were, indeed, unavailable, she wanted purple (since, you know, the green ones were clearly dirty as well). "Purple," Kai repeated, pointing to her dresser. I explained to her that she already had on green PJs. Kai, clearly thinking me dense, got out of bed, opened the drawer and grabbed the purple PJs. "Purple," she said and started tugging at her green PJs while looking at me with this look that said, "are you starting to see what I want here?" I decided that this was a battle not worth fighting and I helped Kai change into her purple PJs. Now the PJ battle was really over:

Acknowledging/mirroring/redirection - 0
Stubborn toddler - 1.

No comments: