Mommy SOS : Temper Tantrums

Tantrum? Who, me? Never!

Tantrum? Who, me? Never!

Today’s Mommy SOS question comes from Heather who’s son is a bit older than Jasper and many of your little ones too, but I believe there are some other experienced mommy readers out there (JBhat? MrsLimestone?) that can help.  And to tell the truth Jasper has been throwing mini tantrums since about 8 months, so age may not be the determining factor here!

Heather writes:

“My son has started throwing TEMPER TANTRUMS when he can’t have what he wants! Yikes! I’ve read that this behavior tends to happen in the half years…18 mo, 30 mo, but what should I do? Ignore? Hug? Distract (it only works sometimes!) Time out (which I hate the thought of!) Any ideas from fellow moms?”

OK, so up until recently I thought a stern “NO” would have the desired effect.. that is to stop Jasper from performing the undesirable behavior which elicited said no.  Oh say for example when Jasper is throwing every little piece of food off his highchair for the umpteenth time! But what ends up happening is that he laughs at me. HYSTERICALLY-  as if NO were the funniest thing he’s ever heard.

So I say it even more firmly, adding in a head shake for emphasis.

You know what that gets me? Jasper STILL throws every little scrap of food off his highchair but now he shakes his head no while he does it! Of course this is the cutest thing ever and I can’t help but die laughing which I try not to let him see me do, after all I definitely don’t want to encourage this behavior.

So I put “buy books on baby discipline” on my miracle to do list (miracle in the sense that no matter how many items I cross off, another one always appears to take it’s place!)

But then I heard a very interesting episode of the New Mommies, New Babies podcast that featured a childhood development expert. She said that babies are too young to manipulate or need discipline. They need to be “taught” the right way through example and that you  should distract and teach by modeling the proper behavior.

Her example was of a baby that throws his bottle repeatedly.. you would say “We don’t throw bottles, bottles are not for throwing. Balls are for throwing, do you want to throw the ball?

Of course this is easier said than done, but I thought it was really interesting.. because I could have SWORN that Jasper was throwing the food off that highchair just to annoy me and to manipulate me into picking it up again!  Now that I see it as just another “game” or instance of him learning about his world it’s a bit less annoying.. but only a bit!

So, what are the things your baby does that drive you absolutely CRAZY? And what advice can you offer Heather and the rest of us that has worked for you?

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Liz says:

I am just catching up on some of your latest posts and happy to run across this one. I am dealing with tantrums with my 10mo old DD. She has been throwing them at daycare and they brought it up to me and asked me what I do when it happens. I was caught off guard and didn’t really know what to say. We are just so used to trying to redirect her at home that she usually ends the fits quickly. At daycare I am sure they are less likely to pick her up or be able to redirect her because they have the other kids to contend with. I am hoping we get a better report this week because she was great at home this weekend. Last week the combination of cutting a tooth and an eye virus may have just been too much for her. It is quite amazing how grown up these tantrums are for a 10mo old. VERY toddlerish and I thought very 2 year old, but I am glad to hear that I am not the only one. I am going to brush up on my redirection tactics and try to be more consistent with that now that I have ready your responses. My husband thinks that this may lead to a problem and is WAY more worried about negative reports from daycare than I am. I told him that we pay them a lot of money to figure this one out. I let them know what we do and they need to keep consistent with that if they want it to end. All I can do is hope for the best and keep a constant line of communication with them. I just hope he starts understanding that there isn’t something “wrong” with her. LOL. Love your blog. I am a graphic designer and think that your photography is great! I enjoy your Photoshop tips as much as the parenting talk. Keep up the good work.

ariana says:

Such a great discussion here guys, sorry I didn’t way in earlier!

Lou, I think that one of the reasons the expert gave to not say no all the time is that then your kids start repeating it back to you! So you ask them to please do so and so and they just say “NO!” So the idea is that you don’t just say no! You say “no,” (no comma) we don’t hit other kids on the head, we play nicely or not at all. And when we misbehave we apologize or else we leave the playground!

In regards to corporal punishment.. my father would agree with you Kate 100%! He’s always said that a swat is what’s needed to scare kids from not doing dangerous things twice (i.e the stove example). In such a case you do sort of want to scare them from repeating the behavior. I guess i’m opposed to it in my heart (I can’t imagine ever hurting Jasper, no matter HOW well intentioned!) even though I can see why it might be more effective or safe even.?

But the things that were discussed on the podcast weren’t dangerous scenarios, they were more banal things like the throwing of food etc.

Heather says:

Ariana, and everyone who has commented…THANK YOU! Your suggestions have been incredibly helpful and I really appreciate all the great advice. Here are some thoughts/comments that I really liked:

1. Having NO mean NO and used sparingly. It has always been a “funny” word for Jake, but now that he’s a little older (17 mo.), he gets it, and it works. I personally think that parents I know who over-use the word, with an ineffective outcome need to be firmer (this also applies to parents of several teenagers I know!) My husband and I are firm believers in this, and although we’re just learning how to be the best parents ever, we slip too.

2. Distracting him…this does work and it’s my first line of defense. Lately, we are having him give up his bottle because when he graduates to the toddler room at daycare he isn’t allowed to have it anymore. I think this has been his toughest transition yet and the cause of many of his tantrums because he so desperately wants it. I think he’s a totally reasonable baby, so on my own, I would definitely NOT be forcing this issue right now. I think MY ambivalence about making him give it up has made the situation worse. Now, I will be firmer. Bottles are for bedtime. Period. End of discussion.

3. When he DOES throw a tantrum, I notice that it’s almost like he needs to get it out of his system and 3 minutes later, he’s back to his happy self. It’s a tough 3 minutes, but then it’s over. I like the idea empathizing with him and hugging him when I can (sometimes holding him is difficult to do when he’s thrown himself on the floor!)

Peytie’s Nanny…you sound terrific, and I think you should write a book of all your great ideas!

Thanks again everyone!

vedjen says:

Our 7.5 month old has just started to throw minor temper tantrums so, unfortunately, I’ve got no advice to give and honestly, at this point we’re still just laughing at her because of the absurdity of her demands. But one day real soon THE ARCHED BACK! THE BEET RED FACE! THE BULGING VEIN ON HER FOREHEAD! is no longer going to be cute.

It’s been very informational reading everyone’s suggestions and I hope that we are able to find a method/methods that conveys to her that we are listening to her request but not necessarily that she is always going to get what she wants, especially when she acts that way.

Kate says:

And Lourdes, I couldn’t agree more- I am also a little uncomfortable with the touchy feely “new age” methods of parenting but I’ve only been around other people’s kids, so I’m not sure how I would handle the situation with my own.

Kate says:

Peytie’s nanny- I was never referring to your post. I just think that a child who is young enough to be breast fed is not going to be very reasonable.
Obviously, no child should be near a road but I did it when I was younger and my mother was not the type to let her kids out of her sight.

I think I need to do a lot of reading on discipline for when the time comes in future years. Lots to consider.

A lot of this makes sense…although from where I stand now, I’m not sure I see eye to eye about the whole “no” being a negative thing. I mean, clearly “no” IS a negative thing, lol, and I do understand the power of coming from a positive place…but I don’t know…I’m always a bit wary of overly touchy-feely philosophies when it comes to teaching children. It’s hard to explain here, but I feel like I’ve seen the effects of some of that on the teenagers/young adults I teach and in the long run not really to their benefit.

As to walk aways: what do the children do when they walk away? Anything else they want? Hmmm…again, I have to give it some thought. I’m trying to see it from another perspective. I think that if I saw my child go to another child and, say, hit him on the head, I would not be alright with just telling Wes to walk away for 5 minutes and do something else. He has wronged someone, no? Is just getting to go off to do something else sufficient? I’m not sure…

Alas, who knows what kinds of disciplinarians my husband and I will really be when the time comes? I do get the feeling though, that aside from the at-the-moment discipline, the most valuable things we can do is be kind and respectful to one another every day, to show by example, to keep our child well rested and do whatever it takes to teach him empathy.

Peytie's Nanny says:

No worries Kate, like I said, I find no fault with parents who choose to spank (as long as they aren’t beating their children of course!) But I NEVER said I don’t use a stern “No”, in fact I said just the opposite…I use “no” when there IS danger (like a hot stove, which was the exact example I gave in my first post). Not that it really matters but I also mentioned that you cannot reason with younger children and re-directing is the best option…Maybe you were commenting on someone elses posts before or you didn’t read mine fully, no worries…I skimmed over a few myself ;-)

And once again…if your child is too young to reason with then why would they even be allowed NEAR a road with traffic without you holding on to their hand? I honestly can’t think of a single situation where a spank would be acceptable.

Kimberly says:

You are right, though… verbally attempting to reason with a toddler is ridiculous. However, giving a clear instruction, redirection, with a short and clear reason is effective. Such as, “Don’t touch the oven, it’s HOT and you will get hurt. Let’s play over here instead.”

Kimberly says:

I’d have to refute the idea of these techniques being a “utopian worls…” they take consistency and commitment, but they DO work. I’ve worked with children for YEARS and these techniques work for most children, including my 4 y/o, very headstrong niece, who I sort of help to co-raise.
The issue with time-out is that while it may work for SOME kids, it won’t work for all, and most parents just don’t use it correctly. The redirect technique, as well as being consistent when you do say “no” works very well, since children naturally want to test and find out where their boundaries lie… children function much better in structured, consistent environments with clear expectations, and clear consequences.
Again, I wholeheartedly agree with both Peytie’s nanny and with jbhat. :)

Kate says:

Peytie’s Nanny- I wasn’t referring to walking away, I was referring to verbally reasoning with a child who isn’t old enough to reason the way adults do. If a child is partaking in a dangerous activity, I find it frustrating to hear someone say “Now, don’t do that because if you do that you will burn yourself.” Sometimes, you just need to make a point. Isn’t a child who runs into the road in front of cars more likely to know not to do that again if he gets a spanking, rather than a “time out? ” (understanding, of course, that you don’t believe in time outs, with which I tend to agree with you.)

Peytie's Nanny says:

Hey Kate, what do you mean by “going to far”? I’ve been helping raise children for 10 years (all ages 0-17) and my suggestions work for me and those I work with. As far as the “tap” on the hand…my dad was a spanker and I’m perfectly well adjusted and happy so I don’t fault parents who spank, but I just don’t see any need for spanking or “taps” on the hand even. Why would you be giving a “tap” on the hand in the first place? Could the issue not be solved by taking whatever the item is away or removing the child from the area/situation that is causing you to want to “tap” his hand? I can honestly say I’ve been tempted to swat a child but its at those moments that I’ve realized I needed a time-out myself to keep from becoming too frustrated with the child. After making sure the child is safe I walk out of the room, take a breath, call my mom to vent, jump up and down or whatever it is I need to do to keep myself from pulling-out my own hair ;-) Then I go back and can handle whats going on.

PS- I love that, Utopian world :-)

Peytie's Nanny says:

So a few reasons I don’t like to use the word no. First, I see a lot of people say no when they don’t really mean it. I am guilty of saying no to a child for some reason or another and then giving them whatever it was they wanted anyway BUT that happens very very rarely. In most cases it’s used and not meant and then it has little meaning and I want it understood by my kiddos that no really does mean just that. No. Second, when all a kiddo hears is “no” ALL the time it becomes a negative word. Like a put-down. Who wants to hear “no” being said to them every time they turn around? I want “no” to be a constructive word that can be used without being negative and I try to use it that way. Like, when I have something that is MINE and a kiddo wants it I can say “No, you can’t have this because it’s only for me. You can play with something that is yours.” I also (with older children) try to use no on purpose just to teach them that its okay when the answer is no. Like, I used to have a little girl who loved to brush my hair and I would say “no” to her every-so-often. Or saying “No, you can’t have candy but you CAN have apples with peanutbutter.” ;-)

ANYWAY, I think time-outs are stupid. There I said it! STUPID! What does sitting a child on a chair and making him stay there teach him? It teaches him to hate that chair. lol

I much prefer the “walk away”. Time-outs are great when children are very upset and just need to chill-out and calm down. But, I don’t think they are useful when they are misbehaving and need to be removed from the area or situation. Re-direction is really a much better option. It teaches the child that “when I do X and am asked not to and I do it again I have to leave AND because I don’t want to leave I should stop doing X”

I hope that all makes sense and is helpful :-)

Sara, its fine to laugh (I love to laugh at the kiddos silly-ness)!

Kate says:

I’m going to suggest the obviously unpopular thing here. Is it so wrong to give a child a tap on the hand if he is misbehaving? I feel like some of these suggestions, though ideal in a Utopian world, are just going too far.

Sara says:

Great advice up there! I’ve got nothing to add except yesterday I said “No!” when Noah was reaching to unlatch the gate on our deck and he mimicked me by waggling his finger back and forth and shaking his head “No”. Was it so wrong of me to laugh? :)

I only have a 4 month old, so what do I know about discipline, LOL?

I am curious though to hear more about not using “no.” It makes total sense that overusing it would strip the word of any meaning, but I’m curious if there are some avoiding it for any other reason?

I’d also like to hear more on the reasons for not liking time-outs. Thanks!

jbhat says:

Wow, it’s scary to be described as an “experienced mommy,” when sometimes I feel as green as they come. So anything I say below comes with that disclaimer.

Our kiddo used to throw food down over and over too, back when he was still in a high chair. The best advice I received about dealing with that came from our infant room Montessori teacher. She advised that we say, “By throwing the food down, you are telling me you are all done.” And then to remove the food. Now that sort of went against my initial instincts–he wouldn’t get enough to eat! He might starve! But it really worked. A time or two of having food taken away after it was thrown down…which, by the way, would usually come when he was close to done anyway, and maybe full or bored…and he stopped doing it. The same technique worked when he went through a short-phase of pulling at my hair and swatting at me while breastfeeding. I found that incredibly frustrating–and insulting! You can’t tell anything really by a time or two of occurrences, but enough of a pattern emerged so that soon I could tell him “By pulling Mommy’s hair, you are telling me you are all done.” It stopped too. So, bascially acknowledging the unwanted behavior, explaining the consequence, and then re-directing to something else seemed to be a positive, effective approach. I agree with the moms/nannies who have said, “we don’t do X, but we can do Y.” That’s good advice too, I think.

Tantrums. I tend to be less of a firm “disciplinarian” on these. Our kiddo would tend to throw tantrums when he was around three–not that they have stopped completely, mind you!– and usually they would occur when he was tired or hungry or otherwise frustrated. My approach is not to jump to a timeout. I tend to want to acknowledge how they are feeling (you’re so mad and sad, aren’t you?), and offer a squeezy hug. For me, offering that empathy shows my kiddo that I get it, and that he knows that I am there to help protect him from whatever it is that is troubling him. As he has gotten older, and if he escalates to the point to be so mad that he probably feels out of control, I’ll even say something like, “are you so frustrated that you feel out of control?”, it is usually responded to with a weepy nod, and a climb into my arms.

Meltdowns and tantrums are hard to deal with. You want/need your kiddo to do something, and for us, it’s usually something that has to happen NOW or Very Soon–there are schedules to keep in life, and the daily routine must go on, right? So if cooperation is not happening as you are trying to get out the door, you try to remind, prod, hurry along…and then when you are not getting the results, it’s frustrating for everyone. In our house, that’s when the meltdowns usually occur. And that’s when I am reminded to step back, breathe, offer that empathy and squeezy hug, even though it’s not on the agenda and may make us even later….but I think it’s helpful.

On that note, offering reminders such as “in two minutes, we are going to go upstairs to start getting dressed” can help prepare him to give up what he is focused on and get ready for the next thing. And if he whines, I’ll say I don’t understand whiny voice, and to use his regular voice. And if he balks, I’ll offer options–shall we hold hands going up the stairs, or do you want to go by yourself? Sometimes tricks like that work….if I am not too frustrated myself to remember to use them.

I certainly am no expert. But he’s a really sweet, well-behaved pleasant kiddo in general, so maybe we are doing something right. : )

Kimberly says:

Just saw Peytie’s Nanny’s responses… and I totally agree with everything she said!

ariana says:

Yay, input from the experts! Thank Amy and Kimberly, I think these are excellent suggestions..anyone have specific questions for these two?

Kimberly says:

From a developmental standpoint…
Babies are definitely not cognitively able to manipulate us (until closer to 2)… but they ARE learning about cause-effect, and that they have some small amount of control over their world. So throwing food on the floor demonstrates that stuff falls down, which is fun; plus he gets a pretty fun reaction from Mommy when he does it. Babies (and all people) will repeat any action they get a “favorable” response from. I find the best way to avoid the food-throwing, etc. is to only give a small amount of finger foods at a time so he doesn’t get full and bored and still have a lot of food left over to play with. If he drops his cup, we’ll get it for him once, but then it’s done if he throws it again.

With the tantrums, I generally advise parents to ignore or redirect. Sometimes they’re just looking for some attention and they’ll get it any way they can, whether it’s negative or positive attention. Little ones (the under-18 months set) respond pretty well to redirection because usually tantrums are born out of either frustration or tiredness. James will have a little tantrum if I’ve removed/redirected him from somewhere he wants to go (like up the stairs) but they’re very short lived – like a few seconds, so I just ignore the fit and give him a toy or something he IS allowed to play with. Sometimes his tired fits are pretty funny (he holds his fisted hands up and shakes and sort of yells/cries) so my sister started imitating him which he thinks is hilarious… (I should really get video of that…) and it makes him laugh, effectively ending the tantrum.

I think it’s important to limit use of “no” to things like touching hot or dangerous items, etc. They do eventually sort of acclimate to it and they do think it’s funny! James laughs at me, too, when I sternly tell him “no” or “uh uh.” Just try not to let them see you laughing and remove them from the no-no place/item.

Peytie's Nanny says:

Okay so one more thing before the baby wakes-up!!!! I don’t like time-outs for kiddos, in most cases. When I was a preschool teacher I started using my now all time favorite technique that I call “The WALK AWAY technique” I swear by this and have used it with children ages 2.5 and up and it is AWESOME. Simply put, I give my one warning and then tell the kiddo to “walk away” from whatever/whoever/whereever. Usually I give a time limit like “if you pull so and so’s hair one more time you will have to walk away and find something else to do for 5 minutes” and I stick to those 5 minutes! Anyway, you can really take that and use it however you would like. But for it to work well you MUST be firm about them walking away and staying away for however long. Otherwise you would be “lying” :-)

Peytie's Nanny says:

So…I have been helping raise children for many many years and I really am a firm believer in NOT saying “no” unless there is danger (like getting too close to a HOT stove). Removing the child from the environment is ideal while they are young because you really cannot reason with them BUT it is also important to tell them why you are removing them from the area or situation (or taking whatever item they have away). I give a warning then follow through, example: child throwing sand. “We don’t throw sand and if you do it one more time you’re going to have to leave the sandbox.” Happens again. “We don’t throw sand so now we’re going to play in the grass with this ball”. Melt-down may happen but it’s okay for kiddos to express their frustrations/anger as long as they are not hurting themselves or others. I make sure they are in a safe area and let them cry while telling them why we had to move.

Most parents have a very hard time letting their children cry which is why they tend to give in to tantrums and the whole process has to start again. And I’ll just be very honest and say that it only makes it worse as the kiddo gets older, No means NO, so say what you mean and mean what you say (that’s my biggest pet-peeve when working with parents/caregivers).

OH and one more thing real quick…it’s okay to give yourself a time-out when you start to get frustrated with your children’s tantrums. Just make sure they are in a safe place and walk away and take a breather so you can handle the situation better (without yelling or freaking-out) :-)

Jen says:

Hello! Long time reader, first time poster. (How many times have you heard that?!) I have a four month old son, so thankfully we haven’t had tantrums yet… but we are in the thick of the four month wakeful period, so um, yeah.

Anyway, this is totally anecdotal, but I have a neighbor and a friend who each follow the “example and distraction” school. I can also say that each has an exceptionally unruly toddler. I’m sure it has a lot to do with how you practice it, and knowing when a firm “no” IS appropriate, but in their cases, not saying “no” doesn’t seem to be working very well. I’m torn, because I very much appreciate what they’re trying to do, but from an outsider’s perspective, it really seems like the kids have learned to exploit the lack of traditional discipline. I’ve seen them engage in even semi-risky behaviors, but it still gets a “please don’t do that”, which works, oh, every 10th time. I don’t have a great alternative, yet, but just had to chime in since I was just talking to a friend about this. I’m sure it works for some, and I would love to see it in action, successfully someday.

As a side note, I’m a professional designer, amateur photographer, “granola-ish” new mom who also turned out to not be the most fertile person on earth. So I’ve really appreciated your posts, I can relate to a lot of them! Thank you for sharing.

ariana says:

Hmm, so it looks like we have a bunch of people with the question, but no one with any answers :)
Maybe I need to solicit an expert to come comment!

Jen, it does indeed sound like we have so much in common, glad you finally delurked! Ugh, 4 month sleep regression… there is some GREAT advice on askmoxie about this. I agree with you 100%, I’ve seen this sort of thing with a friend’s child too and she’s pretty crazy. She’s like 7 years old and insisted in GETTING IN Jasper’s exersaucer even though I told her it would probably break it. And a million other similar things. Anyway, I think the redirection is only meant for babies and not older toddlers.. at SOME point they surely do need a firmer form of discipline. The question is I guess when? I don’t have the answers though, and I’m sure there is no one answer.

Keri says:

Great posts! We are trying to navigate the world of temper tantrums right now, too. I can’t wait to see the responses to this.

Maggie says:

OOOOHHHHH! I can’t wait for the answers on this one…I’m sorry I don’t have anything to share…if I did, I would be sane. Which I’m not :)