Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Niffer's child is starting to learn the fine art of the tantrum. I tried posting this as a comment on her blog, but (as is normal) it got too long. Someday, I'm going to learn how not to be so wordy. But until then, here's another blog post.

Parenting w/Love & Logic has much to say about how to handle tantrums. Here are some examples of how we've put L&L techniques into play.

When any of our children have tantrums, I walk up to him, touch him on the shoulders, and then say in as sincere a voice as I can, "Honey, would you rather work this out in your room or be sweet with me?" And I mean it. I'm not trying to punish him. I really want to know if it'd be better for him to have the tantrum. And if so, he has to have it in his room. But if he wants to stay around me, he has to be sweet.

Now, if he ignores me, as any self-respecting 2 year old almost certainly will. I follow-up with, "Oh. I guess you really need to have this tantrum. Ok. I'll take you to your room." I then pick him up, and put him in his room. As I'm leaving I say, "Feel free to come back when you're sweet." Now if I've already taught him "basic german shepherd" (see below), then I say, "Please stay." And he usually stays. But sometimes I haven't gotten around to teaching that, or maybe he needs a few practice sessions. And he follows me out the door. So, I say, "Oh, are you going to be sweet already? Hmm... doesn't sound like it. Please go back in your room and come down when you're sweet."

And then I turn into a broken record. Every time he comes back out, I say the same thing. "Please go back in your room and feel free to come down when you're sweet." I do this until he emerges and he's not crying.

The older ones (4-6) don't tend to have as many tantrums. But they still have them from time to time. when they do, I treat it a little differently. I might say something like, "Son, that tantrum is not up to your standards. Usually you do much better than that. Why don't you go practice in the *upstairs* bathroom. Watch yourself in the mirror until you're sure you've got it right. Feel free to come back after you're done."

What is absolutely key to this is to make sure they know that they are free to have their tantrum, if that's what they need. But they have to have it somewhere other than in my eyesight. I'm fine letting them be with me, but they have to be sweet. I am explicitly *NOT* trying to tell them to stop having a tantrum. They get to choose what's best for them: to have the tantrum or be with me.

I've learned over the last 11 years that you really have to mean it when you offer them the choice. You can't be angry or obviously sarcastic. If you are, it makes it worse. If you can empathize with them, then they start to learn the value and importance of choosing wisely. Also, the choice has to be one that you're ok with whatever option they chose. Other wise it's not really a choice. They can't learn to choose wisely if they're not actually choosing.

Not being sarcastic or angry can be really, *REALLY* hard. I still fail at that. The good news about this, though, is that in getting angry or sarcastic, I've almost certainly not fixed the problem I was hoping to fix. And I'll get another chance (probably soon) to try again.

Basic German Shepherd
The goal of Basic German Shepherd is to teach your young child some simple commands: sit, come, go, no, stay. The theory is this: at about 10 months old, your child is smarter than your dog. So beyond 10 months, they should be able to learn all of the things that you can teach your dog. Each of these can be fun to teach if you make it into a game and you play it when everyone is happy! Here's the "Stay & Come" game. We started teaching it to our children as soon as they became mobile.

We would take our child and sit him on the bottom stair of the stair well. Then we'd move about 2 feet away, but still facing him. All 4 of them got up immediately and started crawling or walking to us. And we'd say, with a big smile on our face, "Please stay. Can you stay?" They wouldn't get it so we'd sit them back down, and say "Please stay." Eventually they'd figure out that we were asking them to stay. We are smiling the whole time. We'd let them sit there for just a few seconds, and then with big grin or laugh, we'd say, "OK, please come!" And they'd get up and rush over to us as fast as they could. And we'd laugh and say, "Awesome! Good job!", etc. Then we'd do it again, but this time the "stay" part is a little bit longer, and we're a little bit farther away. Every time they stay until we say, "Please come" we cheer them on. Everytime, they come before we say it, we put them back.

We play the game for about 30 minutes. By the end of the 30 minutes, our goal was to be almost in a different room, but still in eyesight. The next time we play, we start off a little bit closer than where we ended last time. By the end of the second time, we want to be in a completely different room and out of eyesight.

Our kids really loved this game. A couple of them had a few tears before they figured out it was a game. But the cheering and encouragement really made it fun. And every time when we put them down on the stair... every single time, we'd say "Please stay". These words then get burned into their brain as keywords. So that when you're not playing the game, and you're asking them to stay in their room or not run across the street to you, they understand what you're telling them. And, what still strikes me as miraculous, they actually stay.

Every so often, a child will not stay when asked. All that means is that we need to play the game again. We call it a practice session. And, what also seems miraculous to me, they still like the game even after they know that I'm going to use "please stay" outside of the game.

This has worked great for us.


Jimazing said...

Thanks for sharing. I like the way you have thought through what you want to teach your kids and how you are working your plan.

Niffer said...

Thanks! I love your long responses to my questions! I hope that we will be able to help future parents with such logical explanations when the time comes.

What do you do when your kids throw a fit in public and you can't send them to their room?

spleeness said...

wow, I saw your link on Niffer's blog and this is amazing. It's hard for me to imagine doing this without showing frustration but I get how important it is and that it won't work unless calm.Great idea!

And I love the "german shepherd" approach too.

mjh said...

The main problem with showing frustration is that the kids have something to focus on other than their choices. If you deliver it calmly, they don't get distracted by the emotion. All they've got left to look at is their choice. I want them thinking about their choices, not my anger.

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