Prior to their turning two, with both kids, there was screeching. But I attributed it to frustration at not being fully vocal. Between two and three there were tantrums, mostly at home, and mostly solvable by timeouts. Between three and four we had tantrums, and these I attributed to blossoming independence. Which brings us to four.
By now, I only sheepishly admit, I thought we'd be done. Even relatively recently in my motherhood, when I saw a child of four or five throwing a fit, I determined they were "too old" to behave that way. I condemned them or, more likely, their parents.
The tables have turned.
My elder daughter is bright. She is, for the most part, cheerful, and energetic, social and active. She is a wonderful child. But she is also testing us on a daily basis. She is an emotional creature. I cannot always predict what will set off the tears. Or the whining. Other times I can predict it, but I refuse to be held hostage by it, so I begrudgingly proceed into what I know will be a glass cage of emotion. My usually sweet daughter's face will contort; there will be tears and yelling. Mostly just on her part. We do not tolerate it, but we have also not necessarily found the best way to deal with it.
I find that trying to reason with a child in the throes of a tantrum is much like trying to have a rational conversation with a person who is drunk. It cannot be done, and if you try, you will end up dissatisfied. A child in a tantrum is not in her right mind. I realize this, and that it is of the utmost importance that I remain calm, because she is, very likely, frightened by her own lack of self control. It is imperative that I not lose control myself. But, by very nature of the fact that a tantrum is going on, I am decidedly not in control.
Thankfully, the worst of these moments do occur at home. I can count on one hand how many major meltdowns have occurred in public. Usually I can distract or stave off or penalize them away. Usually. We do not spank, though that's not really what I want to talk about. And I am not judging you if you do. Anyway, I'm just saying that it's something we have thoughtfully considered and chosen not to do. It's relevant to this discussion, becuase it means we do not have this trump card; this elevation of consequences. I am willing to accept it, but certainly it makes things more challenging when the situation devolves.
Distraught over the lack of respect and whining we started to see recurring in our daughter, and over the resultant negativity presiding over our home, we attempted a positive reinforcement track, the token economy. We decorated a mini checker set and pencil cup and let Mirabella personalize it with stickers. We wrote her name on it. It was all very exciting. We created an illustrated list of treats and the number of tokens they cost. We made a list of behaviors that earn tokens (denoted by a smiley face) and those that cost tokens (denoted by a frowny face). As a result, we have endured constant ribbing from various family members amused by this effort. They ask how many tokens Daniel earns by doing something well (or more likely, how many he should have taken away). For about a month, every time Mirabella did something Emerie didn't like, Emerie would should "BELLAS! TOKEN A-WAY!" But giving and taking goes on throughout the day, so we felt a little better because she always has opportunities to earn them back once they are lost, and there are many opportunities to praise her for good behavior as well.
However, the tantrums persist. Mirabella's fourth birthday party took place at a bowling alley, much to her delight. We did not keep score and she ended up bowling for about an hour straight. She was elated. Every now and then, when the pins wouldn't clear, she would get frustrated. We explained the reset button, and she pushed it with reckless abandon. Lightning struck my brain. Now, when I sense her losing it, I give her an opportunity to push her reset button. "I can't find it," she'll whine, or, "I can't reach it." Not surprisingly, the reset button is never in the same place twice (unless it's in the middle of her back. It is often there). It seems, sometimes, she can sense she is not going to enjoy the coming consequences, and this trick works. For now.
I have lately considered using it on myself. In our small group the other night, as we took prayer requests, I prayed for fewer freakouts. Ahem, of my own. Fewer times when the stress gets to me, fewer graceless moments, fewer instances of angry mommy. Or, umm, wife. But I think Mirabella might be on to something. When I need that button the most, I can't seem to find it.