I’ve been in education and studying child development and child psychology most of my life. I’ve seen the struggle, I know the struggle, I live the struggle. The struggle is real. Picking and choosing the battles to fight with your child is hard. Being able to systematically identify and follow through with which battles to chose and ultimately fight with your child is a challenge, but being consistent with those decisions is darn near impossible.
Jax is at that age where he has figured out exactly what buttons to press to get us worked up. He knows the basics of right and wrong, don’t go near the fireplace (it’s “ha” as he says), we put out plate and cup in the sink after dinner- we don’t throw them against the wall, and as our favorite bedtime book so eloquently says, “tails are not for pulling.” But what about the little things? You know the small stuff you’re not supposed to sweat? The battles that sometimes have to be avoided, but other times just can’t be ignored? I work with teachers on developing the skill of “active ignoring.” If a child is displaying attention seeking behaviors, then giving him the attention, even in a negative way, reinforces the negative behavior by giving the child what they want even if they achieve it in a negative way… (IE positive reinforcement is not always a good thing). In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement is the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future.
But how, as a parent of a two and a half year old do I pick and chose what behaviors to ignore and which to address. For example, when a child misbehaves in a store, some parents might give them extra attention or even buy the child a toy. Children quickly learn that by acting out, they can gain attention from the parent or even acquire objects that they want.
So where does that apply and when is it impossible to carry out? I carry with me an extensive background of developing plans for students who need academic and or behavioral interventions. I know how to address these issues and work tirelessly to support teachers to promote student success in this area… and then I’m home… in sweatpants and getting ready to settle down and relax… read Jackson a book and head to bed…. and then it starts.
A tantrum that could make even a Kardashian who doesn’t get enough likes on Instagram jealous… it starts slow, but builds fast. An extended lower lip, squinted eyes and flailing hands and feet. Shrieking fills the air at ear popping decibels. I often find myself quietly whispering, “go ahead… flip out… you think this is my first rodeo?” I can’t even count how many times I have been able to actively ignore a tantrum or demands and then calmly be able to talk about what happened and discuss with the child the most effective way to “get what they want,” and tantruming is not that way.
It’s easy, until it’s your own child… immediate breakdown of the rational decision making part of the brain. You try to keep calm. You actively ignore. You give reminders of the expected behaviors… You automatically go into self-preservation mode. Tantrums are the hurricanes of parenting. You can prepare all you want… cover up the windows, nail down the patio furniture, but no matter how ready you are about two minutes in you realize you are totally screwed.
This tantrum phase is scary… he gets this look in his eyes that tells me he is surveying the landscape for something to destroy. Yes I ignore and retract and follow through with what I say. But then again, there are times where I’m just ready for the hurricane to end… I guess active ignoring only goes so far.