How I befriended their temper tantrums

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Parenting is just as much a riddle as it is a psychological gamble. Not a day goes by without the thought that there must be more to this puzzle that I’m missing and that I am getting closer to yet another epiphany. And then my mind wanders to the future as I wonder whether and how today’s or yesterday’s events will impact my sanity in the future as well as the characters of my daughters. The irony is that a riddle tends to center you in the present moment while the thought of a gamble takes you to the uncomfortable realms of past and future.

Ok, so now let me become specific. So, I have an almost-four year old and a two year old daughter. Let’s say life is very colorful and hardly ever monotonous. On any given day, at least one member of the family will roll their eyes, yes that includes the two year old, and at least one person will cry, yes that includes me. Thankfully, my husband is generally mellow at home and when he is not at work, he tends to encourage a pleasant equilibrium amongst us females.

Sophia, my almost four year old was amazingly mellow as an infant, adorable and relatively cooperative as a toddler and full of emotional roller coasters as a three year old. She hardly had any major temper tantrums during the mislabeled “terrible two” age. Our most challenging times at that age were trying to get her to sleep in her own bed, by herself.

It unfortunately took me much too long to realize that she simply was not ready to sleep alone, and instead, I resorted to many different parenting tactics, suggestions, blogs and advice …all of which were absolutely useless. My strong willed Sophia would resist every night, crying and begging me not to leave her room even after she had fallen asleep.

I was baffled for over a year. What had happened to my little girl who would sleep through the night for most of the first year of her life? When would the little light bulb turn on in my head, leading me toward the “answer” to this parenting struggle that I was experiencing? Unbeknownst to me, what I was selfishly seeing as “my parenting struggle,” was in fact leading to the formation of an emotional wall within my daughter.

And then she turned three. Her formidable brain went into over-drive. I started seeing everything from creative concoctions in the art room to temper tantrums that would force me to leave (or avoid) public places with a one year old in tow. She was growing, experimenting, discovering, and blooming. I, yet again, was simply blinded by MY parenting struggle to deal with her.

Her tantrums increased. She resisted whenever she could about whatever she could. Her eyes would glaze over, sometimes she would hit and sometimes she would just scream and cry. Every part of her little brain was sparking and lighting up and simply waiting for her tour guide (me!) to guide her. But her tour guide was too busy comparing her to other children, wondering which parenting book to resort to next, and in the meantime insisting that Sophia rush to get ready for preschool. Her tour guide was not present.

Finally, about two months ago, Sophia guided me to the most precious and desperately needed parenting epiphany yet. She flat out refused to go to preschool. She started having daily tantrum explosions, begging me not to drop her off. The old-school part of me did not give in to her emotional outbursts for the first few days. Then, thankfully, my mommy-gut took over and I lessened her school day schedule and before long I flat out cancelled her enrollment.

Now I was at home all day with Sophia and my little Isabella. I couldn’t help but be amused by their newly kindled sisterhood, watching them play and fight and never hold a grudge against one another.  But I still had Sophia’s emotional outbursts to deal with, albeit much less frequent than before. What made matters more interesting was that little Isabella quickly started to pick up on Sophia’s temper tactics. Yes, by this time they were tactics and not just tantrums.

So what was the epiphany? I stopped thinking, reading, analyzing or judging the tantrums, my daughters or myself. Instead, I now welcome them. I calmly ensure that whoever is having her tantrum (occasionally it happens simultaneously! lol) is in a safe spot and then I find a place to sit nearby, at their eye-level, and without a word I just AM. I am there, I am present and I wait for the storm to pass.

We’ve had tantrums that have lasted 35 minutes and not a word is exchanged. She cries, screams, pauses and makes sure I’m still sitting there watching with caring eyes, and continues. If I see she’s about to hurt anyone, I calmly but firmly hold her until she stops the physical act. The end result? Unbelievable!!!

Without fail, the tantrum peaks, sometimes a couple of times, then it slowly fizzles away, and at the end Sophia simply walks over to me, sits on my lap and calmly understands and discusses whatever the subject of her resistance had been. This is how she releases a lot of bottled up emotions that have been weighing her down over the past four years. One by one, the bricks of her emotional wall are pulverizing. And throughout her emotional cleansing, I am given the chance to just sit, observe and return back to the present moment.

My daughters’ tantrums have been guiding me back to the moment.

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