Dealing with Tantrums

My 2.5 year old daughter screams and kicks her heels on the floor in a tantrum. My response has been to try to avoid it, to hold her feet down while telling her to be kind to her body, and also leaving the room and letting her get it out. For the past few weeks she has also been waking up in a tantrum in the middle of the night, we are not able to touch her/comfort her in any way untill she gets a little calmed and every attempt escalates the behavior. Last night my husband stepped in and he spanked her, which got her to stop kicking and screaming and plead for “down, all better, hug”, he believes that it is a power struggle and she has to have strong limits set. He thinks I am doing nothing to help or stop her behavior with my methods and that she is out of control. Neither one of us has ever hit our children (we also have a five year old), althought both of us grew up with spanking. I do not believe this is the way to go, but I do not know what to do. She sleeps with me and and always has. She has been nursed on demand untill a month ago, I am pregnant and it is very uncomfortable/painful to breatfeed all the time. When she askes to nurse I’ve been putting limits on it or offering an alternative. I know that is part of her problem and also I’ve noticed that she usually has to go potty at this time and is almost angry about it. She is a strong willed/spirited child, she does not accept “no” very well. My instinct tells me to be more patient to be more loving but firm and not give in to her demands. At the same time I do not want her hurting herself. I really need help with this issue. Thank you.

Dear Mom:

It sounds like you do have a very spirited little girl and this can be taxing for you, especially with a new baby on the way.  First, I think you are great to follow your instincts when you say, “My instinct tells me to be more patient and to be more loving but firm and not give in to her demands. ”  You really can say ‘No’ and be firm and kind.  Remember that one of the characteristics of spirited children is their persistence which is a great quality that will pay off immensely down the road.  It’s just really hard when they are so persistent with us in the toddler years! Stay with your No in a very patient, kind way.  You may have to carry her out of places which can be hard with being pregnant.  Find ways to do it though such as going shopping with a friend that can help out, or perhaps not go shopping for a while with her.  Breastfeeding through pregnancy can make nipples more tender than usual and it’s okay to limit it.  You are right that she may be feeling frustration so offer her more cuddles and something else to suck.  She may be missing the closeness so spend more one on one time with her.  Try to avoid spanking.  Although your husband may think that it gets results in the short run, it’s doing a lot of damage to the parent-child relationship in the long run.  It’s also giving your daughter the message that she must stifle her strong feelings when she is expressing them in very normal, age-appropriate body language way such as tantrums.  Your husband may get the obediance, but lose the relationship.  As any consolation, often, when the first child is spirited, the second is very easy-going and life should be easier down the road.  2.5 years is a very hard age for you as a parent and also for your daughter with strong feelings, drive and curiosity.  You both will get through it with patience and a very few limits.  Spirited children need much more flexibility.  It’s not a power struggle that is winnable.  As a parent, try not to turn any clash into a power struggle.  Say “yes” as much as possible and say “no” to your absolutes and stay with them.  You will all be much happier!  Good reads on spirited children are “Kids, Parents and Power Struggles” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, “Discipline Without Distress” by me (I have 3 extremely spirited children for which no conventional parenting techniques ‘work’) and “Parenting the fussy baby and high need child” by Dr. Bill and Martha Sears.  All these books will help your husband see that temperament is something to manage and embrace, and can’t be changed through stronger discipline.

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