Tot Tantrum Rehab

Move over Dr. Drew and Super Nanny, there's a new therapist in town. That's right, I'm proud to welcome you all to Tot Tantrum Rehab. I'm Dr. Mommy and I'm now in the house and here to rid my tot of her totally terrible tantrums.

When she was a toddler, Caroline had the typical two-year-old tantrums due to lack of communication skills and growing emotions and needs. I'm a bit baffled that as a near five-year old, she continues to have hand slapping, foot stomping, scream-til-you-puke fits. It ramped up last year before Charlotte was born and we all knew it was because she was worried about her status as Our Family's Top Tot and the many changes occurring in our home. Last summer I spent what felt like endless evenings (mind, you- alone) with two screaming children and me in the bathroom hoping they'd both screech themselves to sleep. A year later and Charlotte has a great bed-time routine an Caroline had seemed to adjust nicely to the new family dynamic. Until a month or so ago.

It started up again when Andy tried to drop Caroline off at pre-school and after a tantrum over the potty, he was resigned to tote her, football style, out of school and to his office where she passed out from exhaustion. We had hoped this was an isolated incident. We were wrong and the start of our summer vacation was a lot of stress and not a lot of fun. Monday started off with a real bang, including Caroline screaming and writhing at the gym pool and me smiling through gritted teeth while trying to run out the door with Charlotte on one arm and Caroline on the other. A series of tantrums and potty accidents (poop, always, always poop) later and I was exhausted and at the end of my rope, and we hadn't even spent seven days at home together!

I'm no fool and I'm certainly not Andy. I know that raising children is no picnic and I've heard that the older the kids get, the bigger the problems. Yet, I was feeling out of control and helpless. If my kids are so young, why can't I get them to listen to me? I worried that we'd spend the summer in isolation for fear that we were causing a scene wherever we went and setting a bad example for others.

Because I am an open book, I started talking with everyone about the tantrums, taking in advice from other moms. Friends always reassured me that this is normal and asked what triggers her fits. Well honestly, I'd tell them, sometimes it's just waking up in the morning. (Now, don't tell me you've never woken up before and been a crabby patty all day for no good reason at all whatsoever.) And mostly it's being told no. (Again, don't pretend like being told no doesn't get your panties in a bunch, too.)Looking online for ideas and solutions was like staring hopelessly into the shaken eight ball. Was she eating too much sugar? Possibly. Was she not getting enough sleep? Possibly. Are her tantrums due to a change in routine and the discussions about going to Kindergarten in the fall? Possibly. Will she have a tantrum again tomorrow? Highly likely. I wondered if I should take her to a behavioral specialist who would tell me she has tempter tantrumitis and it's not my fault and here, take this pill and all will be better.

After exhausting my friends of advice I decided to call the Heavy Hitters. M.O.M and M.I.L. M.O. M reminded me that she once knew a little girl who was so very cute and so very ornery. Can this be hereditary I asked, after all, I think I outgrew tantrums around 25 and my dad just had one himself a few weeks ago. My mom did not know but she reminded me that karma can be a real bitch.

My M.I.L, being the diplomatic yet firm (and mother of two boys) women she is told it like it is. "Melissa," she said, "since Charlotte has been born, Caroline has been able to roam like a free range chicken. I know you have a lot on your plate but her behavior is in your hands. Give her the structure she knows and craves." That night, seeing a terrible future of Caroline donning a short skirt and stealing the car keys to go party, I decided to take action and thus began Tot Tantrum Rehab. I was going to provide a positive, supportive and structured environment for my kid and take away those things that could be triggering her bad girl behavior. Starting tomorrow. Before bed, I let Caroline know that things were going to be different the next day, but also it would be much better and we'd all be happier.

With a heavy heart and some doubt about my success, I drafted a plan. I'd create 10 actions she had to complete each day, split into three categories- morning, noon and night. For each action accomplished, Caroline would receive a sticker. We would not participate in any fun noon-time activities unless she received all 4 of her morning stickers. At the end of the day, if she received 6 out of 10 stickers, she would be able to partake in her most cherished activity of all time, watching a cartoon on the ipad- but only for a half hour before bed. As I devised the plan I wondered, would she think this is a load of crap and laugh and run away from me? How would she react to only watching the ipad for 30 minutes and at the end of the day? Is expecting completion of six out of ten activities too little or too much? I made the chart, found some stickers and hung them on the frige.

The next morning when she woke up I was ready for rehab. Before she was upright in bed I told her I had something exciting to show her and asked her to come with me to the kitchen. She rubbed her eyes and made a sour face, "Can I watch the ipad?" I was firm and told her no and that I needed to show her something. That day I reinforced the chart and the sticker rewards all day. She asked a dozen or so times for the ipad, mostly during transitions and down-time. She whined a bit, rolled around on the couch and fell off onto the floor once or twice. I reminded her of the chart, her accomplishments and her goal for the end of the day. Her detox had started better than I had ever imagined! By day's end, Caroline had placed 9 out of 10 stickers on her chart and even hugged me when she counted them and realized she had accomplished so many tasks.

We are now on day five of the sticker chart. Caroline has received 8 or more stickers almost every day and only once missed the opportunity to watch the ipad. I have had to clean no accidental poops from her pants and she has won every sticker each morning, allowing us to go out and about to socialize. Each day the number of ipad requests lessens. If a tantrum seems to be brewing on her sweet little face I firmly ask her if this is a tantrum and how tantrums equal no stickers and the fit subsides before becoming an all out scream fest.

Like any addiction, being tantrum free will be a daily, if not hourly struggle. She's likely to fall off of the wagon and I'll be there to get her back on and moving forward again. I'll forgive her, tell her she can do better. In my head, I'll forgive myself. I'll get back on the parent wagon. I'll remind myself I can do better-for her.

Comments

Saretta said…
That sounds like a wonderful plan, good for you for coming up with it! My older son is a high tension type, he used to wake up screaming when he was little, but a regular schedule and enough sleep really helped.
Maria B. said…
Sounds like you have a great plan in place. Things tend to work better when they are carefully planned. GOOD LUCK!

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