“I DON’T NEED ANY HELP!”
“THAT IS NOT MY TRUTH!”
“THAT WAS NOT IN MY PLAN!”
“I DON’T LIKE HOW YOU ARE TALKING TO ME!”
“YOU ARE NOT LISTENING TO MY WORDS!”
And so it is another night of a temper tantrum from my daughter. At three, the behavior is expected but the sophistication of expression is not; I am tempted to want to reason with her, my bright and articulate little girl. When she was a newborn I halfway expected this. She had what we called an “hour of power” in which she cried non-stop. We didn’t call it colic, but that probably was what it was. She outgrew it quickly, but she has always been a super-expressive toddler. My child that when she is not tired expresses her chief emotion as love. My daughter who tells me she loves me every day, who whispers, “Hi Mommy” from her bed if she sees me in the hall in the morning, who gives me “giyantic” hugs and sweet sweet kisses, and cries if she isn’t able to properly tell her Daddy goodbye before he leaves for work. My sweet girl who gives her brother hugs and kisses, who tells us parents that we hurt her brother when we discipline him, who comforts him and rubs his back when he is sick. My girl who loves first and foremost of her family, as she says often to whomever will listen. Not just Mommy or Daddy or Brother but our collective unit, our family, in which she derives the ultimate comfort.
I want to talk to this child, to appeal to her rational side, the part of her that I know makes decisions wisely, that hears and listens. I want to believe that this tantrum is really about the fact that I wasn’t listening to her. That I somehow got the facts wrong. That I was talking to her in an unacceptable way.
But then she’s on her back and kicking her feet and one comes close to my head.
And I remember the wise words of a older woman I know. “The only person that is going to have a tantrum up in my house…is me.” In other words: Whoa. I don’t have to stand for this. This child is three years old. I am thirty. I know what happened to get us to this point. I know that I calmly gave her two choices of pajamas and waited a long time while she made no choice in the stubborn way that she does. She stood there and acted as if she hadn’t heard me, trying to push it to the last second. I know that I told her if you do not make a choice, mommy will make it for you, and that is exactly what happened. She expected me to give in, to not do what I said I would do. But she does this a lot. And what’s the point of trying to set parameters if you never actually use the stick?
I know that the tantrum started there, with the screams about wanting Hello Kitty instead of the penguins. I know that in the midst of the first five minutes of jumping up and down and stomping she peed on herself, which is when I started talking off her clothes for her. I know all of this. I know I’ve dealt with pee-pee clothes, snot, and tears. I know I’ve been yelled at, screamed at, and almost kicked.
So I stop talking so much. I calmly and clearly state that it is not okay to yell and scream at mommy. I put her pajamas on, despite her protests that she doesn’t need help (because she’s protesting but not actually putting them on). She screams about wanting a story and “pats,” our special bedtime routine. I calmly and clearly state that there will be no story because of her behavior but she can have pats once she has calmed herself down and apologized to mommy. She immediately shouts, “SORRY!” in such a passive-aggressive way (if three-year-olds can be passive aggressive, I swear she can.) I tell her I want a nice apology and I’m going to give her a few minutes to calm down.
I come back in five minutes and she’s asleep, having wore herself out from all those shenanigans.
I love my daughter’s spirit. I love that at three she is able to articulate her feelings as well as she can. We work with both of our kids to be clear about what they do and do not like about what others are doing and saying to them. And I do not want to break that. And she’s really strong and well-rounded, both physically and emotionally. Being an assertive black woman myself, I admire that in her. She is both so loving and quite self-assured. You can tell that she is very secure in who she is. Her emotions run the gamut and I think that is very healthy.
But she has a stubborn streak in her that I feel are at the point that needs to learn that there are consequences. When you tow the hard line you might just lose – there is a price to pay for that. For a while now we have let it slide – well I have let it slide, Daddy’s been a little more fed up – on account of her age, or “she’s tired,” but it’s getting to the point that she’s having tantrums and acting out in ways that are just unacceptable.
Like the other night, she’s sitting at dinner, eating a hamburger. She’s dawdling, playing with her food, and then in a really nasty voice shouts, “I don’t even LIKE hamburger. It’s NASTY!” Oh really? I yanked her up from that table so quick … “If it’s so nasty, then I guess you won’t miss eating it. To bed with you.”
She can feel the way she does – tell me that you don’t like what I am saying to you, that’s probably self-evident when you are being disciplined – but we can talk – you cannot yell and scream or kick at me. Or at least you cannot yell and scream at me and expect to still be sitting at my dinner table and eating my food.