A Dad's View 13: How do I tackle tantrums?
What's the best way of coping when the toddler tantrums kick in? Tom Dunmore wishes there was a magic formula for discipline
It's Sunday afternoon, we're going to another party, and Ava, newly four, is already acting like a teenager, pulling her pouty routine and refusing to get dressed. 'Why don't you wear your mermaid dress?' asks my wife, picking up the dress that grandma made, which is inexplicably hanging in tatters. 'It's broken,' says Ava. 'I ripped it.'
'How did you rip it?''I ripped it because I was angry when daddy told me off.' I'm speechless. This isn't how discipline is meant to work.
The previous day we'd made an epic journey to a vast soft-play paradise (or parental purgatory for those of us over 4ft tall). Ava had cried on the way, and cried on leaving. We'd had lunch at Nando's, where Ava refused to eat and cried some more. We went shopping and she cried when we wouldn't buy her a cat. Her one-year-old brother stayed stoically calm throughout, happily drifting in and out of sleep.
When we got home and Ava cried because the play tent we bought for her was the wrong colour, I realised that I needed to take matters in hand before things turned ugly. So I carried her to her bedroom and had a stern word with her about being grateful. This is a new tactic. For too long I've been relying on plain bribery as the most effective form of behavioural control – but now, like an overused antibiotic, its effectiveness has been compromised.
Ava is starting to realise that bad behaviour can lead to sweeties.
And I'm starting to panic. Fortunately, time out seems to do the trick: a dash of logic, a pinch of emotional blackmail and, most of all, the threat of solitude: Ava loves to be the centre of attention, so making her wait in her room until she's ready to apologise is like torture for her. Which sounds terrible – but discipline relies on torture, right? The trick is to leave no visible marks, non?
While I dislike having to impose control on my kids, I don't hate it as much as I thought I would. Discipline may be a tough part of parenting, but it's not as tough as getting up four times every night for a year. And while I'd like Ava to inherit my disdain for conformity and mistrust of authority, I'd prefer if she inherited it much, much later in life (but of course, I retain the right to change all these views as soon as the teen tsunami commences.)
So it comes as a disappointment to find that, in between my little chat with Ava and her subsequent red-eyed and regretful reappearance, she shredded her mermaid dress. It reawakens a distant memory of being shut in my bedroom as a child, with a rage so strong that I wanted to destroy every item in the room. But I'm fairly sure I didn't actually break anything. Perhaps it's good that Ava is finding an outlet for her frustration. At least she's not attacking family members. Not yet.
But I'm at a loss as to what do about this strange and violent turn of events. So, like my childhood rage, I'll probably just bury it deep down within me and pretend to forget about it. That's the healthy way to deal with complex emotional issues, right?