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The Power of Talking-it-Through

My daughter is 3 now.  Which means we’re handling a whole host of new scenarios and challenges… and the term ‘threenager’ often floats though my head.  But really, she’s just continuing to become her own person, discovering herself and her personality, experimenting with things she likes, doesn’t like, and trying very hard to be more independent despite her mom and dad getting in the way of those efforts.

I have to remember that… to repeat that to myself over and over because her fast-changing moods and temper make it so difficult to remain calm sometimes.  Within 15 minutes of waking up this morning, I wanted to throw my hands up and say, “For real??”

After we came downstairs this morning, Clare was asked if she wanted toast with peanut butter.  Yes.  Ok, peanut butter toast was made.

“Daddy I want to go outside and get my bunny.” She’s talking about a Pez dispenser. It’s in the car.  If she has it, she then asks for her candy, and these situations quickly spin out of control. We’re not having candy first thing in the morning on this morning.  Daddy tells her after breakfast we can venture outside.

The peanut butter toast is placed in front of her and she promptly yells “Ewwwww!” And tries to throw it.

“But you said you wanted this?” My husband coaxes it away from her so she doesn’t chuck it on the floor, with her saying that’s exactly what she wants to do. (“I’m going to throw this on the floor!”)

I step in and ask her if she wants apple slices on her peanut butter toast, since that’s how I’m making mine.

“NO! That’s yucky!” Ok, fine.

She asks to go outside again, and again my husband tells her they will after breakfast, but that she needs to eat breakfast first.  She’s getting mad, crossing her arms and scrunching her nose and glaring at us.  Any offers of food, she shouts at us. She agrees to a drink, out of a Dora cup.  My husband finds the cup in the sink, dirty, and washes it.  Phil hands the cup to her, to hold it while he gets out some of her juice.  She throws it across the kitchen and it hits the cupboards, landing on the floor next to me.  I turn and look at her face.  She is mad, and this may not be the end… I also see a mess of my things laying around the counter where she’s standing on a chair, all within her reach, waiting to be thrown to the floor as well.  I can handle the cup being thrown.  I don’t think I can keep my cool if she starts hurling my papers and things.

“Ok.” I say. “I think it’s time for you to get down and go play.”  Phil was closest to her, so he lifts her up and sets her on the floor.  I think he, too, understood that I didn’t want my things to be thrown around the kitchen and that I was preventing that situation from even occurring.  As he sets her down, he says calmly, “I washed that cup for you.  I didn’t like that you threw it on the floor.”  He then picks up his coffee and starts to walk into the living room, away from her.  This is essentially what a ‘time-out’ looks like for our daughter.  I’ve talked about time-out before, and how what we traditionally think time-out should be is often inappropriate. In this situation, the things that are reinforcing her behavior are removed.  It could have been a few things: being up on the chair at the counter, our attention, maybe something else as well.  So those things are removed.  She’s brought down from the chair.  We remain near her, but turn our attention away.  She understands we are upset and begins to cry a little, calling to Daddy.  Phil turns back to her and he and I give each other a slightly exasperated, slightly amused look.  When she starts to cry for one of us that’s a cue that her ‘tantrum’ is winding down… and we didn’t even really hit full-on tantrum status!  Phil motions her over to him and she runs over.  I listen as he picks her up and sits on the couch with her and quietly says, “Listen, if you didn’t want your drink, just tell me. I don’t like it when you throw things like that.”  She cries a little more, and he asks he if she wants to play, and starts to joke with her.  Situation diffused. She also ended up eating a bowl of apple slices and strawberries I made for her while they sat in the chair reading…and about 10 minutes later she asked for her peanut butter toast.

These kinds of situations don’t always end so quickly… sometimes they seem to go on FOREVER.  Sometimes our little one is inconsolable, throwing herself on the floor in rage and tears. Sometimes we lose our cool. But for the most part, we have always handled flared tempers and tough situations in this calm, talking-it-out way.  Since she first started talking and expressing her wants and needs and preferences. We talk it through.  We are specific and to the point. We explain ourselves in brief, understandable terms.  We use “I” statements, which helps a young child focus more on the situation at hand, and is more concrete than generalized “we” statements.  For example, instead of saying, “We don’t throw cups across the kitchen, ” we make it more personal, more part of the situation at hand: “I didn’t like it when you threw that cup.”

Because of this talking-it-through, I’ve found that her tantrums are generally very short-lived and pretty mild.  Not all the time. But for the most part a simple explanation, along with staying close and calm, has been extremely powerful in diffusing challenging situations in our home.