Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Tantrum Dichotomy

Last night I left DD with a babysitter, A, while I went to the Bat Mitzva party of my friend's daughter. I went out two weeks ago and we had the same babysitter (a 21 year old with many years of babysitting experience who is great with children). On that occasion she told me that DD cried for 40 minutes after I left but afterwards they had a nice time doing puzzles, playing, etc... I thought last night would be better as DD already knows A and remembers that she had a good time with her only two weeks ago.

I started preparing her when we came home from Nursery: "A is coming to play with DD later while Mummy goes out for a bit. OK?"
"OK," agreed DD brightly, and I was quietly confident. However, as the time drew near and she saw me getting dressed to go out, DD became more and more clingy. We discussed that A was going to give her some chocolate from the fridge, and how they could watch Bambi together (while eating their chocolate), etc... And at 7.45pm I left her screaming as I hurried down the stairs.

On my return A told me that after 45 minutes of hysterical screaming, she got nervous and called her mum to come and help her. "I've never had to do that before and I've been babysitting since I was 15." Reader, I gave her generous compensation.

This morning I called A's mother to thank her. She is a friend of mine, lives round the corner, and really didn't mind. Her opinion was that DD just needed someone to take charge, a 'way out' as it were. She picked her up,  held her close and DD, who was exhausted by that time, was probably relieved to calm down. A's mum also suggested that I go out more often so that DD is more used to being with a babysitter.

She has a point. Last year, before nursery, I had a few babysitters whom I used when I was teaching. DD could hardly wait for me to leave so that they could start playing. This year I teach during nursery time and I hardly ever go out in the evening. For one thing, the nursery costs a mint and there is no spare money either for the sitter or the outing. Also, I like being at home. I have plenty to do here and I actually need those evening hours after DD is asleep to do essential stuff.

All this is by way of a long introduction to how I got to thinking about why a 2yo has such tantrums. DD has a very strong-willed personality (even the nursery teacher told me so) and she is also going through a bit of a clingy phase when we arrive at the nursery in the morning (which is a new behaviour but not related to any goings on there). So her performances may be exceptionally long and loud, but not off the scale.

We all know that a 2yo is trying to exert some control over her life. There is so much she has no control over, that she makes up things to control. We have our own little ultra-orthodox religion going on here, with all manner of rituals that I must adhere to without explanation. For example, DD must have two sips from her sippy cup before I may put the lid on it. We have to walk along the newer asphalt path that runs some of the way to nursey and not stray onto the older bits of the path.

So I try to give her as much control as I can. I let her dictate any methods of operation that are safe and not too unhealthy. I give DD a choice wherever possible. But I am strict when I have to be - she knows that there is no discussion about either holding my hand or sitting in the buggy when we cross the road (even in this situation she makes the choice). In this way I eliminate many potential tantrum situations and give her a feeling of partial control. This has been my theory till now.

However, I cannot get away from the fact that we now never have a tantrum about the rules for crossing the road. DD knows that there is no option but to do what I say. She also knows that when I turn out the light after stories, I mean it and there is no point in crying about it (for more than a minute anyway). This dichotomy seems to support a much stricter approach with the rules set down in stone by me.

So which way is right?


  1. Leave right and wrong out of it. There's only 'what works'. There's no doubt whatever that firm behaviour boundaries work for most children; just like babies gradually learn to discern the boundary between them and the world at a physical level, so toddlers learn the same lesson in terms of what behaviour is acceptable to the people around them. It's almost as though the tantrums are a way of testing out that boundary. They're also clearly about learning the important lesson that you can't always have what you want, and what is important to their grown-ups and what isn't.

    Interesting gloss on the road-crossing thing: from when A was around two, we always used to ask her if it was safe to cross the road. Of course, she didn't know that we retained a veto, but looking and making a judgement became second nature. There's a symbolic little act!

    Sounds to me like your little girl is right on target!

  2. It's difficult isn't it. I think firm but fair is the best way but DD is still very young and there will be a great deal she doesn't understand yet (like the rules for crossing the road). All toddlers throw tantrums at times so it's completely normal even though it is exhausting for you. There's even more reason to go out more often if you can!

  3. That separation anxiety is also a cry for control over her environment.

    But I think it is true that the more you go out, the more she will know that you will also come back.

    I raised three kids while working full time. I could always tell a kid who didn't go to "ma'on" from a mile away, as opposed to the kids who did. Persevere. You are SO on the right track. Being 2 is not easy for anyone, least of all your daughter.

  4. Anonymous - good point about learning what it important to her adults and what isn't. I like that.

    Rosie - Thanks for your support and I will try always to be fair (easier when you only have one child).

    Rosa - Thank you too, although I disagree that being two is harder for my daughter than for any other 2yo. I think perhaps you didn't mean it to come out like that?

  5. I have to be so strict with one of my twins, she will push any tiny line that she can and she is incredibly strog willed. I do feel for you.

    Mich x

  6. I agree with the other posters. Your dd IS very young. You're firm where you absolutely need to be but it's really hard an dthey all run rings around us! I agree taht you need to go out more often. Maybe step it back a little & go for an houri n the afternoon and then build that up? It's probably good that it wasn't you that had to come back & comfort her that night: tantrums does NOT = mummy's return ;-)

    gOOD LUCK.


  7. Mich - the strong willed ones are the hardest to live with but I think they eventually have an advantage in life, so I'm not sorry. Thanks for your support.

    Jazzy - I also thought that about A's mum coming instead of me. I know it will get easier when she has more understanding about time, etc...