All you ATTACHMENT PARENTING mommies and daddies: Question for you - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 05-21-2014, 07:36 PM - Thread Starter
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My husband and I have been very committed to attachment parenting with our 19 month old since he was born. But now that he is a toddler, it isn't always obvious how to handle certain situations the "attachment parenting" way. Usually I just do a gut check to see if it feels right. If so, then it is probably the best way to handle it. Enter toddler tantrums:


Lately, we have been struggling with how to handle our toddler when he works himself into a tantrum. I usually can divert his attention, or figure out what was frustrating him and help him, but sometimes he still gets very upset over something (unknown to me... if I knew, I would fix it) and starts bawling, and he will sometimes throw things and generally be very unpleasant. Oh, I should mention that most of the time, he is a very gentle, pleasant and content child with a strong desire to communicate with the people around him which he is able to accomplish with surprising accuracy despite his limited verbal tools. 


Today, he was playing with a toy, and somehow got frustrated with it, and began to throw it, and started crying very angrily. Attempts by his father to figure out what was upsetting him just made him cry harder and seemingly more angrily. My husband decided to leave him alone since he felt like he was only causing him to become more worked up. After a minute of crying which did NOT die down at all (sometimes if he isn't too upset, he will stop crying and become distracted if ignored) I came in and began trying to find out what he wanted. At that point he was beyond communicating and just wanted me to hold him. So I picked him up and hugged him. He started immediately calming down. I then was able to re-direct his attention to something else, and he started really coming out of the fit. But he remained in a irritable mood for a long time after that. I attributed the long recovery time to the fact that he got SO worked up and was allowed to sit and cry for longer then usual. Though to be fair, he was really tired (maybe he was extra tired from crying, or maybe he was crying because he was unusually tired for this time of day) and he didn't get back to his usual cheerful self until he woke up from his nap. So this is what my gut told me to do in the moment: I saw he was crying and not calming down from his frustrating moment, so I felt it was time to just give comfort. It made it easier for both of us in that moment, I'm just not sure it sent him the right message.


My husband does not feel I handled the situation correctly. I don't know... that is why I am coming to you wonderful people for help. I want to continue to practice attachment parenting through toddlerhood and beyond. I want my child to get the message that we are here for him, and will do our best to help him through his struggles, but I don't want to encourage tantrums. My husband was trying to give him the message today that "If you act like a jerk, people are not going to want to hang around you." I just don't know how to handle this... I want to know the best way to handle this, AND I want my husband and I to be on the same page (that is very important). My husband is also very committed to natural attachment parenting.


Is it best to pick him up to help him calm down then re-direct his attention? Or is it better to let him calm himself down eventually and re-direct his own attention?


I sincerely appreciate your feedback and advice! Thank you in advance. 

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#2 of 8 Old 05-21-2014, 07:53 PM
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I think in most cases it's better to help them calm down. Toddlers have big feelings and can be quite frightened by the intensity of those feelings. The message you are sending by leaving them alone is "you're feelings are so big and scary that even grown-ups can't handle them." Our role is to help them to learn socially acceptable ways to manage their emotions and calm themselves when they're upset. This is a long-term project. Years long. But that doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. It takes time for their developing brains to lean these skills. Even adults have tantrums.

I don't try to fix everything for my kids though. I do if I can and/or I think it is desirable but AP isn't about our kids never being upset. I empathise with them and give them the language to describe their feelings and tell them that it's ok to be upset. I also set boundaries as needed - it's ok to be angry with your sister. It's not ok to whack her. has great articles for all the age groups. Your husband might find some reassurance that his 19mo baby is not a "jerk", he's a very normal little person who is learning to navigate a completely alien world :-)

Mother of two spectacular girls, born mid-2010 and late 2012  mdcblog5.gif

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#3 of 8 Old 05-22-2014, 07:04 AM
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I would not endorse your husband's characterization that  trying to give him the message today that "If you act like a jerk, people are not going to want to hang around you."   But it is true that parents can inadvertently reinforce unwanted behavior even when it is the parent's intention to do something helpful. And, mere parental attention can be reinforcing.  There is plenty of scientific literature to back this up.


I am not sure what the best solution is.  Here is how I try to handle it:


1. Maintain a high level of attachment in general, when the kid is not tantruming." Reward good behavior. When your child is behaving well, ALWAYS praise him and tell him that you like how he asked for things, or how he shared things."


2.  Don't ignore at first and then give in later if the tantrum gets worse.  This can shape the kids behavior toward progressively worse tantrums.  You might even end up in a psychologist's office with a kid that throws head-banging tantrums.


One thing I do is pick up my son and take him with me to a chair in a quiet place where he can look out the window.  I don't try to talk him out of the tantrum, I don't give him face-time, I am just close in a quiet environment.  I think of it as a kind of "attachment timeout".   I think my response is attachment-oriented, but my response is relatively muted and not too reinforcing relative to the positive feedback I give him for showing self-control at other times.


I know you want to be on the same page with your husband, but a kid will easily adapt to two adults using different approaches. I have seen kids that whine all the time around certain adults and never even attempt to whine around certain other adults who consistently ignore whining.  Kids are really good learners.   I think the more important thing is the neither of you adopt a pattern of behavior that reinforces tantrums.


Different kids react differently.  Some attachment parents probably end up having to use the more conventional approach of ignoring tantrums.

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#4 of 8 Old 05-22-2014, 10:33 AM
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For me, the big problem with having one parent stay back and one swoop in and comfort is that you can wind up with a dynamic where it seems to the child like one parent withholds affection, and the other gives it.  Which is not a great place to be. 


For me, there are two kinds of toddler storms - tantrums, which result from frustration, not getting what the child wants, and so on, and breakdowns, which come from being tired, hungry, or stressed.  It is really hard to tell these things apart, so the response has to either one has to cover all the territory.  You have to be able to proceed without necessarily knowing what's up.


My general approach with a child who is inappropriately throwing things is to remove the child from the situation.  I don't care why the toy was thrown, throwing toys gets you taken someplace boring for a rest.  Often with a lecture component.  "Hey!  We don't throw things in the living room!  I think it's time to take a break."  And then we go to the bedroom, and we... sit.  We do not offer alternative activities.  We sit quietly and consider a nap.  And when we come back out (2-5 minutes later, unless it really was naptime), we deal with cleanup from the toy throwing, and we think about having some crackers or something.  I also think it's okay to isolate a child, briefly, if necessary.  I am not a big fan of the timeout as punishment, but I am in favor of not having a screaming child underfoot while I mop, and there are some situations where safety requires that a child be moved or contained.  I've also often found it useful to put toys in timeout.  Toys that get thrown often wind up on top of the fridge.  People who are upset about not being able to reach them will just have to wait out the timeout period.  If that idea provokes more howling, we need to investigate whether it's naptime.


Because toddler weather can have consequences for other people in the household, I feel it's very important that response gives other people time to cope.  If there are other children, they have to be reminded of the rules, and they may have things to rebuild or start over.  If anything was broken or spilled, there may be cleanup.  Misbehavior shouldn't be rewarded with attention and affection, especially if those things are diverted from siblings or necessities (like cooking dinner or using the bathroom alone with the door closed)

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#5 of 8 Old 05-22-2014, 10:38 AM
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Toddlers get upset over all sorts of things; if you can calm them down somehow, great. Hugs, cuddling, songs, distractions. If you can't, sometimes they have to cry for awhile. Sometimes you can talk them out of it. It's a mixed bag!


If you were able to calm your toddler down when he was upset, great! I think your husband is over thinking this.

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#6 of 8 Old 05-22-2014, 12:30 PM
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Absolutely what katelove said.


Read the book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Child by Dr. Laura Markhum ( She explains how to be a peaceful parent, how to build connection with your kids, emotion coaching (tantrums are covered here), setting limits with empathy, and mastery coaching. 


This book is excellent and completely changed our parenting style. We have a late talking two year old and the tantrums can be overpowering, but she helped us learn how to handle them with empathy. After reading her book, I got to feel the joy of having my son take my hand with a smile (tears streaming down his face) after I empathized with him during a tantrum. Please read it and share it with your husband!

Happily married to DH 
Stay-at-home mama to DS1 (01/12) & DS2 (01/14)
Expecting our third! (due 01/16)
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#7 of 8 Old 06-24-2014, 01:42 AM
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a poem for you:
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#8 of 8 Old 06-30-2014, 01:45 PM
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I think you handled it correctly. Because I think toddlers are too young to understand that you aren't going to put up with that kind of behavior. My twins throw tantrums, Roxy throws them a lot, and I usually let her throw the fit, but am sitting next to her on the floor being comforting. And if it goes on for too long (honestly, probably more than 30 seconds, hers are usually short), I pick her up. I want her to understand that she is allowed to get upset and can maybe calm down on her own, but if she can't I'm there. I think she'll learn over time how to handle it better. Maybe not for many years, but eventually.

I've noticed I can help her avoid them if I let her point to things or grab things when she seems frustrated. Because often, she is just frustrated by lack of communication options. If she's frustrated by a toy, I sit and try to help her. If she can't get it, I try to give her something else and put the toy away. And she's usually hungry when she throws tantrums. Just some thoughts.
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