Making Peace with a Temper Tantrum

The other night I was at the local pizzeria with my family. We had just arrived and settled into one of the booths. Since we were waiting for a friend to join us and it was a beautiful evening outside, I asked my husband to take our 2-year old outside for a walk.

I was admiring the precious smile on my 8-month old’s face while she slept in her carseat. That’s when I started to hear this mind-blowing screeching noise behind me. Cringing at the horrific sound, I turned around to find an 18-month old in the middle of a full fledge temper tantrum. His arms and legs were flailing while mom was trying to keep him close to her body to prevent him from hurting himself.

I felt so sorry for his poor mom, who was noticeably shaken by her son’s outburst, but I was also feeling guilty for the irritation that was building up within me.

I knew I shouldn’t stare, but for some reason I couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking “that could be me!” When the boy’s mom turned around to get up from the table with the flailing child, her eyes met mine. She walked past my table on her way out of the restaurant, stopped briefly, and said “this is my THIRD child and you’d think he’d be the easiest! My two daughters were a piece of cake compared to this one!”

Anyone who has kids knows how humiliating you feel when your child is uncontrollable in public. And if you happen to be a new parent with an infant and think “that will NEVER happen to me!” Well, think again.

When you do find yourself in this situation and know that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to resolve the tantrum with your child logically or quickly, below are some tips that I use to walk away (afterwards) with some semblance of dignity:

1) I let my inner mom-bot take over. By distancing myself emotionally from the situation, I do whatever is necessary to get through the tantrum (which might mean heading towards the nearest exit – see #2 below).

Every night, dinner hour at our house begins with both my 2-year old and 8-month old singing a chorus of cries at the same time. My husband and I often look at each other and smile during these moments. We don’t laugh, and we don’t yell. We just let our inner “bots” (robots) take over because the situation is almost so unbelievable that it’s humorous. We go through all the motions to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible.

2) If I’m in public, I remove my daughter from the situation as quickly as possible.

This might be a major inconvenience (i.e. I’m halfway through my grocery shopping trip and have to abandon my cart), but the quicker I can exit the situation, the better both of us will feel. Once we walk outside, I take a deep breath, count to ten and exhale slowly.

3) If removing my daughter from the situation is not an option (i.e. stuck on a plane), I try to be as prepared as possible by arming myself with ‘treats’ and new toys.

Whoever said that bribery was a bad thing? ;)

Whenever a holiday or birthday rolls around, I take several unopened gifts and store them in a closet. The next time we have a long trip planned, I pick a toy from the array of stashed goodies and bring that item(s) on the trip. This usually buys some quiet time for my 2-year old. And there’s always the portable DVD player. I acknowledge that it’s not ideal to stick your child in front of a movie for a couple of hours (most doctors will tell you that no amount of TV is suitable for young children), but most of us know that there are just some situations when we parents need some down time. Both of my daughters were mesmerized by educational programs such as “Baby Signing Time.”

Also, I always have several loli-pops in my diaper bag and reserve them for these, and only these, occasions.

4) Above everything else, I know that my child is watching me and learning from how I react to these types of situations.

It’s super easy to become emotional and feed off of my daughter’s energy. But I know that she’s watching me and testing me, and the quicker I can put my inner mom-bot in charge during the “torrential downpour,” I’m smiling again in no time.

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