Today marks 18 years dating my wonderful husband, Seth. 18 years ago, he picked me up for our first date and I never looked back. I knew that day that I would marry him, and I am so glad that I was right. He had originally scheduled a lunch date with me yesterday and today to celebrate Valentine’s Day and our anniversary. He is so busy and works so hard. He says he will slow down but his schedule doesn’t tend to show that he’s doing that.
Anyway, he told me he was really busy today and could squeeze in a quick lunch date if I wanted him to. I told him it was okay to cancel because I really had a long list of things to accomplish today. I told him I really needed to focus on writing this and he laughed and told me I had to write about….
I had no idea that my husband had already bought me a lot of stuff for Valentine’s day. I was going to head into Ulta to pick myself a new perfume. This was long overdue. I can’t tell you the last time I bought myself perfume. I came up with what I thought was a better idea.
“Hey Seth, when you pick the girls up at theater, what do you think about the three of you heading to Ulta to pick me out a perfume for Valentine’s day?” I had no idea what I did wrong there. He could have said, “I already bought you a few gifts,” and I would have been good with that response. However, he is so very sweet and was more than happy to go on a daddy daughter date to buy me some perfume.
They show up from the store and I am so excited to see what they picked, and the girls were so excited to give it to me. “Can we give it to you now, or do we have to wait for Valentine’s day?” Seth asks me. It is so adorable how excited they are, and I tell them that they can absolutely give it to me now.
I open the box and instantly react and get upset. Yes, you heard it here! I screw up every single day. I get a lot right every day and I also screw up. My husband and daughters do something so sweet for me and my reaction is, “Ariana Grande perfume? Really!?” I am so disappointed and so upset that he thinks I would want an Ariana Grande perfume. I got way too excited to see what they picked for me and way to bummed out when I saw what it was. I was feeling disappointment and it was coming out wrong.
“Mom, it’s pink and it’s called ‘Sweet Like Candy’, like you.” Well, I certainly wasn’t feeling very sweet at that moment. Lillie and I are the big feelings people in our house and her feelings were growing with mine. She says, “You are so ungrateful. We tried to do something nice for you.” She storms off and starts texting me from her room because she is so upset with me.
My husband looks sad. Ella disappeared. Big emotions tend to make Ella vanish. Lillie went up to her room. I ruined what could have been a very sweet family moment. I was not proud of myself. I could have handled that a lot better. You see, moms have temper tantrums too. I didn’t like the perfume. Seth got pissy (understandable) and said he was going to return the perfume.
When no one was around except Ella and I, it came out that Ella really loved that perfume and has been dreaming of getting it. I wish she would have told Seth or I that. I absolutely would have bought it for her. Her Bat Mitzvah and Birthday are coming and there isn’t anything that Seth or I wouldn’t buy for our sweet, easy, kind child. Let’s just say that the perfume became Ella’s. Let’s also say that taking the girls was a bad idea because they gravitated towards the perfumes that they wanted! Seth took me back to the store and showed me the awesome Coach perfume he had picked for me. He did buy it for me. He is wonderful. I am feeling like a brat right now and I need to make it up to him. The man bought me perfume, a ring, earrings, chocolate and tulips for Valentine’s day. I feel very loved. Now I want to make him feel very loved. His birthday is coming in March, and I would love for you to send me some ideas! I need help! Oh, were we supposed to be talking about kid tantrums? I got a little lost in my tantrum. Just remember, adults have them too! Not just kids!
As you already read, Lillie and I have big emotions. During that little temper tantrum that I had, I started to understand my child better. When she has these big feelings, she doesn’t know how to manage them. I am learning every day with her and hopefully I can help you too.
I want you to think back to all the times that your child has a tantrum and start to notice patterns. When we identify patterns, we can predict and plan and be ready for it. For example, I have talked to you about the fact that Lillie doesn’t like to be rushed. I noticed this morning that I woke her up at 8 AM and wanted to leave by 8:20 AM. Does that seem very smart to you? If I know that Lillie doesn’t like to be rushed, then I need to plan for this. First, I should have her pick her outfit out the night before, which she does do a lot. Second, I should wake her earlier to give her more time. Third, I should give her calm warnings about the time. Fourth, I need to stay calm through the morning and not have my rushed energy have a negative impact on her. I have done this enough that I need to reflect back on this pattern and plan for it better.
The other day Lillie screamed at the top of her lungs, smacked the island, and then stormed up to her room. I didn’t react. I was actually shocked. I was also happy I didn’t escalate with her. We have so much power. If we escalate with them, we make the situation so much worse. I will tell you this over and over again but if you only focus on yourself and what you are doing you will have a positive impact.
I listen to two awesome ladies a lot: Kelly Hutcheson “Harmony in the Home” podcast and Rachel Bailey “Long Game Parenting” Podcast. Rachel talks about the yuck that parents and children feel. She tells us to let them ride the curve of yuck. If we let them ride this curve they will peak and then start to come back down. If we try to reason with them, we will make it worse. They are lost in their feelings and logic is not going to help them. Empathizing with them and staying calm will mostly likely help them. Rachel also explains that staying calm can also make them feel misunderstood. When we say things like, “I know I ruined your night taking away your phone,” then they may feel more understood.
Kelly Hutcheson tells us to detach, label, normalize and support our children through the tantrum. I can tell you the tantrum is hardly ever about me. Lillie will be upset about something from school and will hold it in all day. It comes out in the strangest ways when she is home with me. I am her safe place. I will always love her. This is why I get the worst of it. I actually said to her the other day, “Should I tell your teacher how you just acted?” Her teacher wouldn’t even believe me because her behavior at school is so much better. You should see the look Lillie gave me when I said that. I think it actually woke her up to how poorly she was behaving.
Rachel and Kelly say that it doesn’t tend to be about what ever they seem upset about. Rachel said, “It’s not about the bacon.” They could be having a fit about bacon or cereal or the drink you gave them, and it isn’t really about that. You can’t try to logically fix it because emotions are high, and logic is gone.
We want to teach our kids to start labeling their feelings. If I would have said to myself, “You are disappointed and that’s ok. They tried and that’s what matters.” If I would have labeled how I was feeling and understood myself better in the moment I probably wouldn’t have reacted about the perfume. If Lillie can identify when she is sad, angry, frustrated, she can start to talk about her feelings instead of lashing out.
I think normalizing things is one of the best ways that we can cope. If we say to ourselves, “Kids have big feelings. Kids are learning to regulate their emotions. Kids have temper tantrums. I can handle this.” If we start to say those things to ourselves then we don’t react to the temper tantrum. Normalizing things takes away the high intensity we feel with it.
We also want to learn how to best support our kids through a tantrum. I love that Kelly asks her son, “Do you want me to help you, or do you want to be alone? Do you want me to stay, or do you want me to give you space?” I find that a lot of times our children want us near them. Lillie will often storm up to her room to calm down and I’m not upset about that. If she wants me near her, I understand that too. It is hard to manage all their feelings. We don’t want to send them away and make them feel unsupported. I will tell Lillie that I need some space, so I don’t react and sometimes I do need to get away from her for me. Sometimes I can help her and sometimes I need to get myself under control before I can attempt to help her.
One of the biggest issues that I had with parents when I was doing family counseling was them telling me that their kids don’t care about the punishments that they gave them. One of the ways our kids attempt to get control is by saying, “I don’t care. Take my phone away.” Now I know for a fact that Lillie cares, so I just ignore that comment. It doesn’t phase me. I understand that she is trying to take back some control. I still take it away.
The goal is not to punish them, the goal is to teach them. My goal is not to make Lillie feel bad. If she screams at me and hits the island and has a big fit, I am going to take her phone away. That behavior is not okay. I did take something away, but I want her to actually learn from this. Does she know what feelings she was having? Does she know how to handle it next time? Does she feel badly? She almost always comes down and apologizes. She has to ride the curve of yuck according to Rachel Bailey. She gets to the top of the curve and then she starts to come back down. When she comes down, she apologizes.
I have seen us both improve. We are both learning from our mistakes. Lillie will say, “I’m trying.” Or “I’ll try more next time.” I know she cares, and I know she wants to do better and so do I.
What can we do:
- Most importantly, focus on yourself. Try to keep yourself calm and don’t go to the yuck place with them. Empathize with them.
- Shine a light on the behaviors you want to see more of. When Lillie handles herself well, I point that out to her and give her praise. “Thank you for staying so calm and explaining how you are feeling. I am so proud of you.”
- Give our kids control over things. Lillie likes to be in control of cleaning her bathroom and her bedroom. She likes when I give her jobs and make her feel responsible. She likes when I ask her to text someone for me.
- Help them learn to label their feelings so they can start communicating with you how they are feeling.
- Detach, label, normalize, support.
- Let them ride the wave of yuck and know that they will come back down.
- Look for patterns. Plan ahead and predict barriers that are coming up. If they freak out about being rushed, try to make your schedule so that they aren’t rushed. If they have meltdowns before tests, then work with them on studying and feeling prepared. Work with them on coping skills to help with their anxious feelings.
- Pay attention to things like – are they hungry? Did they eat their meals? Are they tired?
- Talk about what happened after everyone is calm. What did you do that worked well for them? What do you want to do differently? What did they do well? What could they do differently?
- Remember that their logic is gone. Don’t try to solve the issue. Emotions are high and logic has left the building.
- Reassure yourself that you can handle it. That will help you stay calm. You can also bring in reinforcements. Sometimes I tag Seth and tell him he’s it and I disappear.
- Pay attention to your own triggers. What makes you escalate and plan for that. When Lillie starts screaming at me, I will reassure myself that she is just having a hard time. She isn’t allowed to yell at me, and I will make that clear but I can know that it pushes my buttons and prepare myself to stay calm and handle it rationally and not go to the yuck place with her.
- Be a good listener and let them explain what’s upsetting them. Have them help you understand.
- Model the behavior that we want to see.
I hope that you can take something away from this to help you navigate through parenthood better. Parenthood is messy, exhausting, challenging, beautiful, amazing, the best and the hardest job we will ever have. I will work on my own behavior to be an even better example for my children. Just remember, we all have temper tantrums. Not just kids.
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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