March 24, 2011 9:26 AM
Tantrum Proof Your Child: encourage independence
I'm not interested in how to deal with tantrums once they start as much as helping parents understand how a proactive and multi-faceted approach to parenting will help you raise a child who is not prone to tantrums.
We've talked about how parents can unwittingly exacerbate power struggles, about how hungry children are more prone to lose it - there are really a lot of different issues each parent needs to think about to see where a little change might produce big results.
But encouraging independence? How does that work to reduce tantrums? I hope that the following excerpt/adaptation from my book The Mommy Manual will help. My theory - and I have raised 12 kids by it - is that when a child has plenty of opportunities to exercise his independence in positive ways, he won't be pushing in negative ways, paricularly in public, when he knows he has his parent over a barrel.
It's been years since I covered some of these basics thoroughly here at MommyLife. This was posted May 29, 2007:
"No, lemme doowit myseff!"
Sound familiar? It's the rallying cry of toddlers everywhere. At this very moment, throughout the world - in thousands of languages - children are telling their parents they want to do it themselves.
Every child is born with a God-given potential (Maria Montessori called these sensitive periods) for independence. But the child's drive for independence often clashes with the way we want things done. Here, a little understanding of the way the child's mind works will go a long way toward bringing more serenity to our lives together. Let's face it, we've spent twenty or thirty some years growing up ourselves. We don't remember at all how it felt to be a child.
Let me walk you through it:
You want to put on your own socks. Your hands are small but you're determined. You're giving it all you've got. The sock gets snagged on one couple of toes, then the other. Finally the sock has cleared the toes and you're on your way to victory and then. . . .
Along comes a bigger pair of hands grabbing your sock and trying to "help" you.
"Hurry up! We're late!'
You don't know exactly what late means other than your mother is about to lose her temper. But there are these socks - you can't think about anything else. Your existence has become focused on one need. You are compelled, pushed, driven to put these socks on your very own feet.
But these big hands are pushing your little hands aside and pulling the socks away. These big hands that are usually filled with love and understanding now offer only opposition. What recourse is there but to fight?
What life struggle would give you, as an adult, the wherewithal to engage in hand-to-hand combat against an opponent packing five hundred pounds on a twelve-foot frame? Can you even imagine such odds?
How extraordinary that we mommies actually witness such displays of courage in our own homes each day! And all over little things like shoes and socks, buttons and barrettes, pitchers and sugar bowls.
Why do they do it? What could possibly give them the determination, the tenacity, the foolhardiness to persist in the struggle?
Some might blame it on the fall, confusing the drive for independence with our flawed nature. And it is confusing, for the child's drive for independence begins around the age of two, when the effects of the fall are running rampant in their little personalities. That is why, mixed in with this very valuable potential for good - because the drive for independence is good - there is a lot of negative behavior.
But there is a difference between trying to pour your own milk and making your mother chase you through the grocery store. The first is an example of wanting to take care of your own needs and the second is an act of rebellion.
Many parenting problems stem from lumping both types of behavior together, then reacting to either the same way. It's just automatic.
Mommies just can't afford to react automatically - at least not if we want to help our kids grow into all they are meant to be.
So when you're faced with standoff and you feel your impatience rising, try a fresh approach. Take a deep breath. Then, before reacting, ask yourself if the child's behavior is rebellious and destructive or whether it is the natural result of his drive for independence. Does this stamping of the foot signal rebellion, or does it mean I need to take a second look at the situation to see if it's an "I doit myself" issue?
The ability to discern between rebellion and the drive for independence is key, because mommies need to be doing two things at once: setting boundaries to curb negative behavior and keep our children safe, while encouraging their drive for independence in a positive direction.
The drive for independence usually begins with self-reliance skills. Your little guy wants to do things for himself, like taking off and putting on his own clothes - sometimes several times a day. He's always looking for a new challenge, like getting into and out of his own car seat or cracking the eggs open for breakfast.
These are good things, things you want to encourage, even if it means a few elusive eggshells in the scrambled eggs. Even if it means constantly refolding clothes and putting them away - or better yet, teaching him to at least shove them in the right drawer (sooner or later, hopefully, you'll give up worrying about how the contents of your kids' drawers look - it will be crowded out by other things, believe me).
This is a simple lesson really, but one which will revolutionize your mothering. A child whose independence needs are met is a much more confident and even-keeled child.
Here's a tip: If your child is struggling with putting on his socks, give him a larger pair to practice with. And whenever you give your child anything to do, encourage her to do it again and again until she decides she is finished.
Adapted from The Mommy Manual: Planting Roots to Give Your Child Wings. For more Montessori, click on Categories above, then click on Montessori. Check out entries at Preschoolers and Toddlers too.
Read more at Tantrum-Proof Your Child
It's funny, I spent a lot of time yesterday and especially today attempting to not just spend more time with my son, but to spend time letting him be independent and encouraging him.
He spent yesterday evening with his shoes on the wrong feet but I am amazed at the difference in his behavior and just how affectionate he was towards me. Thanks for the insight, Barbara!
Posted by: Courageous Grace | March 25, 2011 4:12 PM
I like your article on independance. Just wondering if you or anyone else had some thoughts to help me with my independance dilema at present. My almost 4 year old boy has started insisting on pushing the supermarket trolley when we go to the supermarket - which is fine. What isn't so fine is that he isn't tall enough to see where he is going and if I don't guide the trolley from time to time, he will crash it into other people and shelves. However, every time I attempt put a hand on the cart to steer it, he gets really upset and has a small tantrum. So what's a mum to do to stop the tantrums? It's clearly an independance issue not a rebellion issue, but I just can't let him do this thing unassisted at present.
Posted by: Rachel | May 5, 2012 12:04 AM