Sunday, September 18, 2011

The ever-evolving tantrum....

It started innocently enough... a few weeks ago Punkin Head started doing this little foot stomping thing. We'd be going about our day as usual when I would do some normal type thing like ask her to close a cupboard door or not play with the toilet lid (gross!) and she would stomp her little feet and whine or yell a little bit. When she first did it I thought it was kind of funny and super cute. My daughter was becoming more independent, how exciting!

Over the next few days the foot stomping continued everytime I did something she didn't like... I was caught off guard every time. I really try to be empathetic to her developing independence and feelings. As much as I wanted to laugh, I didn't. I tried to give her an alternative when I wanted her to stop doing something or redirect her when she was doing something she shouldn't be. For the most part the episodes lasted a few seconds, usually ended in some hugs and kisses and Punkin moved on. No biggie. I mean, least it wasn't a full on tantrum, right?

Then it happened... a few days ago Punkin was playing with some accessories to my vacuum. I went over to her and told her I was all done and it was time to put things away. I gently reached out and attempted to take the accessory from her hand (as I had a thousand times before) and the foot stomping began which was then followed by Punkin throwing herself on the floor in the classic tantrum fashion. All this was accompanied by yelling which turned to crying and kicking feet. She then screamed and cried her way over to her couch (we bought her a "Punkin-Sized" couch recently) and threw herself down on it very dramatically.  The whole incident lasted about 30 seconds, but it was a real eye-opener for me.  We had entered the tantrum stage. This is going to be interesting.

The fact is, Punkin Head is showing me she is her own person. She has definite likes and dislikes and she isn't afraid to tell me what she prefers. She is still my baby, but not in the same way.  We are beginning to butt heads a bit, she and I. There are times when she wants to go outside and I need her to stay inside: Tantrum.  Or when she wants to walk in the road and I have to remind her that she needs to stay on the sidewalk: Tantrum.  I try to imagine what it would be like to be in Punkin's shoes: unable to verbalize my wants, randomly having my activities interrupted, literally being picked up and moved according to someone else's whim. Doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun to me; sounds incredibly frustrating, in fact.

With that in mind, I try really hard to respond compassionately to Punkin's tantrums. It seems like oftentimes, while parents may be crabby or tired or simply having a bad day, we are unwilling to acknowledge that our children may have similar feelings/moods. Some parents seem to be unwilling to acknowledge that their children have feelings at all...  Our children are smaller versions of us. I want Punkin to know it's okay to feel frustrated or even angry with me and her daddy (as well as happy and goofy). Those emotions have to go somewhere and be expressed somehow. At this point in her little life all she can do is act out. She doesn't have the vocabulary to articulate her feelings and a girl has to do what a girl has to do in order to get her point across.

Oddly enough, I'm not exactly dreading this stage. I'm not looking forward to the public meltdowns that I'm sure are just around the corner, to be sure, but I'm not scared or upset by what this chapter has in store. I'm actually looking forward to helping Punkin Head work through this time in her life and learn how to express her feelings in acceptable/constructive ways. I'm being reminded more and more everyday that her daddy and I are her role models. How we express our own emotions and respond to her feelings is going to play a major role in how this tantrum phase plays out. If we play our cards right, we're going to end up with a considerate, empathetic child that isn't scared to experience her emotions; as well as a child that doesn't have to worry about being punished for feeling a certain way. Over time, Punkin will mature and her tantrums will become a distant memory.

 If anything, I'm relieved that this phase is beginning. Our girl is hitting a normal developmental milestone.  What more could a parent want other than a normal, healthy, happy child? Even if that child happens to throw themselves on the floor scream and cry when she doesn't get her way from time to time, we'll love her just as much. Bring on the tantrums!