Friday, March 23, 2012

Tantrum Town, USA

Well, as I believe I've mentioned, we're having some serious behavior issues around here, and I am at a total loss as to how to solve them. Tonight, Turtle refused to sit in his high chair, as he has been doing on occasion lately. He wanted to sit on my lap. I am not ok with that, because I don't want to spend the next year (or more) holding a toddler/preschooler on my lap at every single meal. I've tried the following, and nothing has worked:

1. Giving him a choice between sitting in his high chair or several other things, such as removing the tray and pushing the chair to the table, using it as a booster seat, or letting him sit in a grown-up chair.

2. Telling him he will not be eating dinner if he doesn't sit in his high chair (or eventually, one of his other choices). Then I either ignore him when he screams, or I try to empathize per some of the websites I've read, which .... have you ever tried to empathize in a calm voice with a screaming, tantruming toddler? Yeah. If it works for you, great! It does not work for me and Turtle. He can't even hear me over his screaming.

3. Tonight, we didn't watch our usual Italian cartoons after dinner. I guess this could count as "punishment", but in my mind, it is because there is a usual sequence of things, and cartoons come right after dinner. If we don't eat dinner, then logically we don't get cartoons. Logically. Haha.

So Turtle went to bed without dinner. I offered dinner many times, in many ways except for him sitting on my lap, and none of it was acceptable to him. In the end, he didn't want to seem to eat at all. He calmed down after about 20 minutes of crying, and played for a little bit, then the tantrums started again because I remembered that I had their sleep sacks in the dryer and ran to go turn it on so they'd be dry before bedtime. That resulted in a major meltdown, which lasted through changing into pajamas, putting on sleep sacks, brushing teeth, and saying goodnight. More than an hour of screaming tonight.

The worst part is that Tadpole seems to finally be noticing that Turtle is getting a lot of attention, and she is starting to be upset about it, too. She notices that Turtle says "Mama mama mama" all day long and eventually I pay attention. She notices that Turtle screams and cries a lot and I have to eventually soothe him, calm him, give attention to the situation. I'm sure she hasn't really figured it out quite yet, but she's definitely noticing. It's unfair. All the parenting things I'm reading don't seem to take into account that a lot of the techniques involve not only a lot of patience but a lot of TIME. It's hard to sit and soothe a toddler and wait calmly for a tantrum to end when there's ANOTHER toddler who rightly wants some attention, too. Especially when these tantrums are happening multiple times per day. I'm really frustrated and a bit lost right now, and not sure how to handle things.

My husband's cousin is visiting for a few months from Italy to help me, but I'm starting to wonder if the tantrum and fairness situation is actually worse. I mean, don't get me wrong! She's a TON of help, she cleans, helps cook, helps with baby care, watches the kids when I want to go run or have a dentist appointment, etc. It's also fabulous to have someone to talk to rather than spending day after day with no adult conversation. But, I'm sensing that Turtle has figured out that now that there is a 1-to-1 ratio, he wants to make sure that the adult he gets is always me, and that Tadpole gets my cousin-in-law, who he likes, of course, but sees as the second choice. It's different when Papi is around because we're both number 1, and sometimes Papi is even more in demand than I am. But there is definitely a difference between Mama and Cousin, and Mama wins every time. And so usually Tadpole loses. We're going to try very hard to change that (we've discussed it), but these battles are taking a lot out of me.

So anyway. I am still really struggling to handle the difficult behavior, both in and of itself, and in how it affects my relationship with two same-age children at the same time. It's really rough, and I am realizing it's probably going to go on for at least the next couple years, so it's time to nip it in the bud and make some changes around here. This is all so much harder than I thought it would be back when I was the expert and didn't have kids.

In other news, tomorrow I'll talk about my mini-goal for the month of April, how Lent without coffee is going, and my brand-spanking-new sewing machine.


  1. Does he communicate verbally and, if not (or if not well) have you considered a speech therapist? Bobby has been seeing his for 2 weeks and the changes are AMAZING, including a huge decrease in his "toddler behavior" like fit throwing. Just a thought...

    As to dinner, ours are great eaters and sit at the table. Every now and again we might do a meal in a lap, but they know the default is their seat(s) at the table and we dont really have a big deal. We have a rule that you dont have to eat, but you have to stay at the table until we are all done and, if you dont eat, you dont eat until the next scheduled snack/meal time. That sucks if it is dinner. Neither kid has ever screwed with dinner; sometimes lunch (or the snack after breakfast) but they know the deal. It amazes me at two and a half just how well they know it!

  2. My heart goes out to you! Man, do I hate tantrums! My guess is that it is NOT really about the chair. That's how I think it is around here, anyway... it's usually not about the thing, it's about testing their authority and/or seeing if they can manipulate us. My guess is that you are onto something with it being about your family member. Which... you can't really control.

    I will tell you, I am in no way an expert. My girls have been throwing tantrums when I pick them up from daycare every day for a week (like, screaming all the way home) and on Thursday I threw frech fries at them to shut them up. :) Mother of the year, right?

    I'm thinking... decide where you want him to sit and then stick to your guns. If he's hungry, he'll eventually eat. Whatever you do, just be consistant.

    Also, maybe giving Tadpole some extra one on one attention might not be a bad idea. Maybe take her shopping when dad or someone else is home to spend time with Turtle.

  3. I'm sorry that things have been so stressful recently. It's so hard trying to keep your cool with only one screaming toddler, I can't imagine how things can get for you.

    And, just my opinion, I don't see a whole lot wrong with punishment so long as it fits 'the crime'. Maybe it's my definition of punishment (having to live with the consequences). He doesn't want to sit in his chair, then he goes to bed without supper... That just seems like a natural consequence to me.

    Ginny likes to throw things on the floor when she's in her highchair. Our rule has become she gets one shot. We will pick up her spoon/cup/toy from the floor once. If she throws it down again, it stays there until we get up from the table. It can make for some loud and unhappy mealtimes, but she needs to learn the cause & effect.

    I don't know if that was any help at all... probably not. But know that you aren't alone. Hang in there!

  4. Our system is quite similar to Michele's - everyone sits at the table (in their high chairs) for the duration of meal time. If they're done and/or don't want to eat they turn the palms of their hands up and toddler-speak "all done" so we take their plates. They sit until everyone else is done eating, then we clean up and play. We don't eat again until the next meal or snack.

    I'm sorry it's tough - it will get better. I do agree w/ others in that it's likely not about the seat, but an attempt to manipulate, get attention, etc. When you come up with a solution, let me know - we're just starting a 'tantrum' phase at our house too...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!