Dear Joanna and Julie,
I have just finished reading your book and I think it’s an amazing book! I have a 5-and-a-half-year-old son, “Kevin,” as well as a 2-year-old. “Kevin,” has always been a difficult child for me. He always has temper tantrums (like every hour) over tiny matters. He says he is very angry and he needs love from me. For example, when I don’t answer his question immediately or when I raise my voice he starts to wind up and say ‘I am angry!’ Sometimes he throws things . He always says ‘Mummy please give me love’. If I ignore him, it turns into a 30 min temper tantrum disaster. If I sit him on my lap and give him a kiss or hug and try to do the tools , he is ok.
The thing is, because he does it so often, I find it impossible to have the patience, and also I don’t think a 5-year-old boy should be having so many tantrums! I want to know what exactly should I do when he has a meltdown? Telling him I really don’t like to see anyone being angry doesn’t seem to lessen his tantrum. And I have been using the tools for a few weeks now. Please help!
Tired of Tantrums
It sounds like your son is feeling very needy of your attention right now, and you are feeling pretty frustrated. A temper tantrum every hour is a lot to take!
From what I understand, Kevin is actually pretty articulate about what he needs – love and attention! And when you sit with him on your lap and give him hugs and acknowledge feelings, it really helps. But you don’t want to have to do that a dozen times a day, and with a five-year-old, it certainly feels like he should be able to function without quite that much attention.
I’m guessing that with a two-year-old brother taking up his mom’s attention, Kevin may be feeling extra needy of some babying, while at the same time you are feeling extra needful of Kevin acting like a big boy. Two-year-olds are so demanding! The problem is, the more you press Kevin to be the big boy and not to need so much attention, the clingier and more desperate he will feel. The more we push away, the more they grab on. I went through this with my middle child, who went through a clingy, fearful stage. I became so frustrated; I was always acting impatient with him. A friend kindly told me that my impatience was making my son more clingy. I was working against myself.
So how can you muster the patience to give Kevin what he needs, and ultimately give him the strength and confidence not to need quite so much babying, while retaining your own sanity?
I am going to suggest that you throw yourself into babying Kevin. Invite him into your lap. Tell him he’s your super baby who can run and jump and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The strongest baby in the world! Acknowledge all his feelings (“Sometimes you like your little brother, but sometimes it’s a pain in the neck to have a two-year-old around. You miss the good old days when you were the only baby!”)
Give him ways to help out. Maybe he can read a picture book to his little brother, or blow soap bubbles for him to pop, or build blocks towers for him to topple. Then use your praise and appreciation tools to help Kevin feel good about his role as an older brother. “I see a big smile on your brother’s face! He really likes it when you read to him.”
Resist the urge to tell him that you “don’t like to see him being angry.” As you noticed, that doesn’t work. He needs to feel accepted and loved even when he’s angry, just as we all want to be accepted and loved, even when we’re frustrated with our children. We wouldn’t want someone to tell us, “Hey, I don’t like to see parents who are frustrated with their children!” It would make us feel wrong and bad about ourselves.
But what about when you’re at the end of your rope, after the 5th or 6th tantrum of the day? What about those times you just don’t have it in you to be loving and patient?
Tell him how you feel, without making him feel bad about himself:
“Kevin, I can see you need some loving and hugs. Mommy doesn’t have the patience right now for that. My patience is the size of a tiny little pea. You can come sit with me in the kitchen while I make dinner, and I’ll be knowing how sad you are while I cut these carrots. After dinner my patience will be bigger, maybe the size of a watermelon, and we can sit down together and hug and read stories.”
Or maybe you can ask him to show you his feelings in art. “Kevin, I have to diaper your brother right now, so I can’t sit down with you. But I want to know how you feel. Can you show me with the crayons? … Wow, look at those blue and black lines zooming around. That shows me how mad you are! Show me more…”
No doubt there will be plenty of times when you don’t feel the patience to use any skills at all. That’s just because we’re human. We can’t expect 100%. But the more times you are able to accept your son’s feelings, either by cuddles or just in words, the more he will relax. And eventually he will start to have fewer tantrums, and feel more confident and sunny.