Sunday, May 3, 2015

Your child is throwing a tantrum? Good job, parents! No, seriously. Good. Job.

Photo courtesy of Clare Bloomfield
I have a strong-willed child. He is stubborn, determined and hard to manipulate. When he decides he's going to do something, he's going to do it regardless of safety risks or admonishing. And although it's frustrating now, I know that in the future I'll be glad because everything I've read says that these are the kids who become leaders. I mean, these are not bad qualities as long as they're directed in a positive way. But right now, as a 2 year old, it's a real strain on my patience. This is especially true in public.

I wrote a post several months ago about an epic tantrum he threw in the mall. In fact, he threw one yesterday. We were going into an antique store (bad idea, I know) and I told him he couldn't run around. He immediately started wiggling and trying to get on the floor. So I took him outside and he started screaming hysterically because he wanted back in the store. But let's not stop there, let's add the flinging of his body and my noble attempts to keep him from cracking his skull open on the sidewalk. Nate had to throw him over his shoulder and carry him to the car. All with an attentive audience. I vaguely remember someone saying oh he's not a happy guy and I'm sure people were thinking much worse like, why can't you control your child?

And you know what? I let it get to me. I shouldn't have, but I did. I felt the mom guilt. My child threw down a massive tantrum in public and I felt bad about it.

So I reminded myself of something I decided not too long ago - that kids who throw tantrums have damn good parents. You know why? Because their parents are trying to teach them right from wrong. Their parents are establishing boundaries. Their parents are drawing a distinct line in the sand between the parent and child roles. I will not be controlled by my toddler.

It would be so easy to give in every time E wants to do something. It really would. Do you know how hard it is to be consistent with a strong-willed child? It's exhausting. And if I gave in, I wouldn't be embarrassed by outbursts and the attention from nosy (and vocal) bystanders. He'd look like an angel in public. People would silently applaud my mothering such a well-behaved child. But then he would grow up and be one spoiled brat. He'd feel entitled to getting things his way all the time. And why shouldn't he? I would've reinforced that behavior from the beginning. He'd be uncontrollable as a teen. My child will not be the 12 year old on Maury who hits his mother. He just won't.

Here's the thing - parenting isn't easy. It's easy becoming a parent, but parenting isn't easy. And it seems especially difficult with a strong-willed child. He will test every boundary. He will push every button. He will manipulate every situation. Because on top of being determined, he's also wicked smart. He's figured out that if he screams "ow, ow, ow", we'll let go of him. We are NOT hurting him. But because we let go initially, he knows it's a way out. Which means I have to continue holding him when he screams "ow" because a) I'm not hurting him and b)I need to establish control. That's real fun in public. Real fun.

But if people want to judge me for my tantrum-throwing child, so be it. At the end of the day, I know that we're doing the right thing. We're parenting our child. Showing him right from wrong. Establishing limits and boundaries. Now there are some of you out there with children who are the same age who don't have these problems. And that's OK.

But for the rest of us treading water, please know that the next time your child throws a tantrum I am silently applauding your efforts. I'm not thinking that your child is a brat or that you've lost control or that you're a terrible parent. On the contrary, I think you're doing an amazing job. You're making sure that your child is going to be a positive member of society. You're not taking the easy way out. You're choosing to parent your child. You get all the claps.

And if we do it the right way, the tantrums will only be a phase....right?


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