Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Destructive Anger

There was a certain child, let us call her Mary*, who was prone to temper tantrums. Mary started having them at a very young age (her mother can't quite remember, but it was at least by 10 months). By 13 months, her mother was beginning to think that Mary was purposefully attempting to hit or kick her during the tantrums. And today, at 14 months and some change, there was a scene that was all too familiar and upsetting.

Mary's mother needed to make lunch. Mary wanted to be held (like always). The mother solved this problem initially by putting Mary in a baby carrier while chopping onions, carrots, and sauteing them in the pan. But when it came time to chop the raw chicken, Mary's mother wisely saw that she needed to put Mary down for just a few moments for Mary's own safety. She told Mary that she would, of course, pick her back up in just a few moments, just as soon as she was finished, and that Mary needed to be patient.

Mary began screaming and wailing, and then leaned over and deliberately picked up a booklet that was on the floor and tore off the cover (with the intention of ripping the entire thing to shreds, I am sure, but her mother rescued it from her before she could further destroy it).

I know that our readership includes at least one set of parents who have dealt with this sort of destructive anger before, as well as at least one adult who used to be this sort of child (though if my memory serves me right, this behavior didn't start until later for that child), along with many veteran moms.

How would you have dealt with Mary? What can Mary's mother do in the future to help Mary learn to manage her frustration in a more constructive way? Would you spank for that behavior in a 14-month-old (James Dobson, by the way, would say no)? Would you be concerned about how angry she seems to get over very little things?

*Names have been changed to protect the "innocent"

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13 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Laura

    If memory serves, Dobson's 15 month rule is based on the idea that children start showing signs of deliberate rebellion at that age. May also have something to do with when their language development allows them to understand your explanation of the punishment. IMO since every child develops differently, that 15-month rule should be less important than a parent's judgement about where a child is in their development.

    FWIW, this week was the first time I've ever seen Savannah respond to a spanking the way the child raising experts say they should:

    Me: "Lie down so you can get your diaper on."
    Her: "No"
    Me: "Then you get a spanking" *spank* "Lie down. If you say no you get a spanking"
    Her: "No"
    Me: *spank" "Lie down. If you say no you get a spanking"
    Her: *walks to her diaper and lies down*

    There might have been an extra iteration of this that I didn't include in the above, but the point is that she's 22 months old and that's the first time she's responded that way.

    I don't know if that's evidence of previous spankings bearing fruit or if that means that spanking wasn't the right thing to do before this age. But I do remember stressing like you are about what to do at that age, and I guess the best I can say is that I wish my expectations had been set lower for her response to punishment at that age because it really stressed me out to see it not working. What I can't say is whether the punishments I gave were right to do before they were effective... not sure if any of this helps.

  • Alan

    For the record, I have no idea who your example individuals might be.

    That being said... When you reward a behavior, you get more of it. So you should *never* reward a tantrum. A child will sometimes employ that technique (perhaps repeatedly) trying to get what they want. Parents often give in because it seems easier at the moment. But the long term results of giving in are much worse. Instead, teach the child a different technique (a more acceptable one, of course) and reward that technique when you can. Maybe you can't reward them right then, or maybe you can't give them exactly the reward they want. But if they employ the acceptable technique, and not the unacceptable ones, give them *some* kind of reward. If you do, you'll get more of the acceptable behavior.

  • Harmony

    Here is what he says on the subject:

    "Mild spankings can begin between fifteen and eighteen months of age. They should be relatively infrequent, and must be reserved for clear defiance, not childish irresponsibility. A heavy hand of authority during this period causes the child to suppress his need to experiment and test his environment, which could have long-lasting consequences."

    And then, again, he says: "Spankings should be reserved for moments of greatest antagonism in later years. I feel it is important to stress this point: the toddler years are crucial to the child's future attitude toward authority. He should be patiently taught to obey without being expected to behave like an adult."

    If even Dobson (who is one of the most conservative and strict of the parenting "experts") is saying this, I'm very hesitant to use that as a punishment at this age. YKWIM? On the other hand, nothing else is working!

  • Laura

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Laura

    Tantrums are *not* childish irresponsibility. Childish irresponsibility covers things like dropping food on the floor, getting distracted on the way to do some task you asked them to do, whining to get your attention, using the bathroom in their pants during potty training, etc.

    IMO defiance is a better description of her attitude when she throws a tantrum in response to your putting her down. She is not accepting your authority in telling her she can't be held. I don't think a spanking is out of place in this situation, but as Daddy said in his comment, teaching her another response is probably more constructive. I would say you may find yourself needing to do some of each, depending on if she's angry enough not to be teachable in any given fit.

    In our house we deal with more whining than tantrums, so I can share what we do for those, although I admit that *tantrums will be much much much much harder to deal with*.

    Suppose Savannah is whining for me to hold her. I will tell her, "No, that's not how you get what you want. Let's start this conversation over. Mama?" (She has to repeat "Mama" ... until recently I needed to say "Mama" several times until she understood that she was supposed to say "Mama" after me.) Then I say, "Hold me please?" And she has to repeat. I say this all in a very sweet voice, and if she doesn't repeat in a sweet voice, we do it again, with me explaining that she did not ask nicely.

  • Laura

    (continued because my post was too long for Blogger...)

    I don't know how to translate this technique to tantrums... mostly with our infrequent tantrums I would hold Savannah so she couldn't flail until she understood that anger got her less freedom and calming herself got her more freedom. (Of course this is hard to do while cooking!) I started teaching her to take a deep breath but we haven't needed to deal with anger often enough for her to have picked that one up. Maybe you could teach her something like a Yoga pose that she could use to help her snap out of her funk? ("No. What do we do when we're angry? That's right, downward facing dog. And take a deep breath." Or whatever. :-P I guess you do want to be sure to treat it as teaching and not let it feel like a fun game that could feel like a reward.)

    Anyway, to answer your main question, I would say that in my opinion, yes, spanking should be a tool to use when she throws tantrums. But a child who has a lot of anger also needs to learn how to calm herself down, and as a result spankings should maybe be the last thing you try. That doesn't mean that you should expect other things to work most or even half of the time. :-\

  • Laura

    Also, I never answered your question: "Would you be concerned about how angry she seems to get over very little things?"

    No, not in the sense that I would be concerned that this is too early for her to be so angry or too little of a thing for her to be angry over. It's something to deal with, but it doesn't mean that she is burdened with more anger than other children have at that age. Savannah's tantrums are less frequent but are over equally small things, and involve plenty of intense anger and sometimes have involved destructive actions like biting and hitting. You are not dealing with a child with an unusually monstrous temper, it just seems to me that you have to deal with it more often and as a result it wears on you more.

  • Harmony

    La, the reason for me quoting Dobson was not to prove that he says don't spank for tantrums (in fact, a few sentences earlier he says a violent tantrum is cause for spankings in a toddler), but to point out that they should be "infrequent" and that a heavy hand could cause problems.

    If I spanked Pearl for every time she threw a tantrum, no one in their right mind would call it "infrequent". I'd be spanking her 5 times a day on the good days, and much more on the bad days (she's had a tantrum an hour today, except for the hours where she's had more than one).

    If I knew with a high degree of certainty that all it would take to get her to stop the tantrums was a handful of spankings, then I'd do it. But what if it doesn't work, and I'm spending all day spanking her? That has the potential to severely damage our relationship.

    I already do what you do for whining. I gently hold her arms and say, "Pearl, stop whining. Can you tell Mama what you want? Do you want ____? [if she doesn't know how to vocalize what she wants] Can you ask nicely? Say please."

    I like your idea about the yoga pose, although I don't know how I'll actually get her to strike a pose when she's upset.

  • Laura

    Are you quoting "Dare to Discipline" or "The Strong-Willed Child"?

  • Harmony

    I'm quoting from Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions, which is the only one I have (on loan from one of the ladies at church).

  • Laura

    IIRC, "The Strong-Willed Child" allows that some children will be throwing tantrums very frequently, and I think he has somewhat different advice for these cases. (I can't remember the advice... maybe it's "spankings can be frequent if warranted" or maybe it's "here's an alternative to frequent spankings.")

    I recommend looking at a copy because I think he does have different recommendations for SW children. Obviously "spank for all tantrums" and "spank infrequently" doesn't make sense if your kid is having tantrums frequently. That's not going to be productive advice for you, and I think TSWC might have advice that applies to your situation better.

  • Sherry

    Maybe there are different ages in Dr. Dobson's books or maybe when I read them 25+ years ago he advocated earlier spankings in some cases because I distinctly remember him saying some kids under 12 months could understand, and a quick pop and to say "no" when they were headed for trouble (ie about to touch a hot stove) or a pop to the lips when they bite can get their attention and the point across that this is wrong. I had two different types of children and one seemed to learn from spankings and the other it just seemed to make angrier, so I agree, spankings are not the end all. I would suggest you read "The Strong Willed Child" as I think it helped me understand the strong will better. There were some days I felt like I was spanking all day and it does wear you down. One other observation, I do feel like a lot of tantrums are brought on by lack of sleep. Maybe one of the consequences after calming down can be to take a nap. That doesn't help at dinner, so the consistent, "That is not acceptable" and "Mommy will have to give you a spanking for destroying the book" will have to happen. Training children is tiring!

  • Smockity Frocks

    I would think that Dr. Dobson's age guidelines are general and with the understanding that more precocious children will come to stages before others.

    I have had a "Mary" in my home each time my children reach about that age. It seems they want to know where their boundaries are.

    A firm and uncomfortable thump on the hand, accompanied by a disapproving, "No!" usually does the trick. If the little rebel continues the behaviour, I continue to make it uncomfortable for her.

    Babies are amazingly smart at associating cause and effect and will change their behavior if they understand that it will CONSISTENTLY be uncomfortable to do otherwise.