Toddler Tempers, Tantrums and Testy Times

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

BabyMoo has always been a feisty baby.

He has his fears, but most of the time, curiosity gets the better of him and he will ignore his initial apprehension and wariness in favour of finding out more. He is headstrong, stubborn, and knows exactly what he wants... and will do just about anything to get it. He does listen to reason though - he understands when we explain things to him, and he will not mess around with wires, sockets and walk into the 'wet kitchen' by himself.

He is resourceful to the point of being almost 'wily', a trait which he has displayed since he is able to pick objects up to try to take them apart. Two months ago, his little car rolled underneath the safety gate, and stopped just a short distance away from it, in the next room. He tried reaching it by stretching out his arms through the bars, and was unsuccessful. He tried using his legs and toes next... and still couldn't reach it. He then went to the toy box and rummaged around, finally holding aloft a toy grip, which has movable forcep-like claws at the end of it. He shoved it through the bars, and was elated when he finally was able to retrieve the car, pulling it inch by inch to his side of the gate.

I watched him, out of sight, with a mixture of awe and pride, for I knew that should he have seen one of us big people around, he would ask us to take the car for him instead!

He is also extremely prone to frustrations. He is an impatient boy, as a baby he couldn't wait the time it took us to prepare a bottle. As he grew older, he has no patience for slow feeding hands. He is not one to be able to sit down to play with a toy for a considerable amount of time, and chooses what he wants to play with, and when. When things don't go his way, he gets upset, but not to the point of throwing things or yielding to uncontrollable crying episodes, especially when Daddy takes him to one side, and (tries to) keep him in check.

The hubs and I have always known that we have to prepare ourselves for worse episodes in the foreseeable future - as he grows, and undoubtedly gets more assertive. When he's scolded or smacked for not listening, BabyMoo needs assurance and comfort, as all children do, but his character is such that he may forego these to prove a point, and for the sake of his ego.

BabyMoo turned 16 months on Sunday. He is now agile on his own two feet, and without as much as a 'Ma Ma' or 'Da Da' or even 'No No', he knows how to make himself heard through his actions. With mobility comes the need for independence; now he does not have to indicate where he wants to go - he can very well go there himself. He need not wait for us to take a biscuit for him, he can do so himself. He refuses help in most situations, only when instincts take over and he knows that he is on unfamiliar terrain which needs to be tested with Mummy or Daddy first.

I have always thrown the Discipline Master role to DaddyMoo, because I don't know how to do it without being affected in the worst way. I am always an advocate for the 'Good Cop' / Bad Cop' psychological method, and we would prefer it so that BabyMoo doesn't ever feel that he has no one to turn to for comfort. Until last Sunday evening, when he pushed me almost over the edge.

We were at IMM for dinner, after we dropped my Mum off at home from the airport. When we were shown to the table, BabyMoo flatly refused to sit on his high chair, perhaps distracted by all the kiddy rides just outside the restaurant. He kept pointing to them, and I told him that Daddy will allow him one ride while we wait for our orders to arrive, after which he should sit down for dinner before anything else. A few minutes later, he still refused to sit down, and DaddyMoo finally relented and gave him one ride after telling him not to push his luck.

He still refused to sit down after that. He yelled, kicked and wriggled his way out of Daddy's arms, displaying a strength that we were not aware he had. I tried to calm him down, only to be greeted with a swat across the face by little flailing hands. DaddyMoo asked me to have dinner packed to go instead, while he scooped the boy up to walk hurriedly out of the restaurant, before someone shouts: "Bad Parent! Awful Child! Teach him some manners and not to create a scene in public!"

I strapped the squirming, yelling child into the harness (thankfully we have a Manduca carrier, which is big enough to keep him secure) and he didn't appreciate it one bit, especially at that state. As he calmed down considerably on our way to the carpark, I talked to him normally, explaining to him that there is always a time and place for everything, and this includes play time, breakfast, lunch and dinner time. I told him that we didn't appreciate him creating such a ruckus in public, not only did it reflect badly on us, it made him look like a naughty child, and a repeat of the incident will not be tolerated (hey, we try!). 

He looked everywhere else but at me. Strapped to me, he looked left, then right, and would have done a Linda Blair if it was at all possible. I told him to look at me when I'm talking to him. No response. I cupped his head to turn it to look at me - he went rigid, and refused to budge, until his entire face turned red from resisting. Then he pushed my face away.

I was shocked, and my heart skipped a beat.

"BabyMoo, please don't do that again. Mummy is talking to you, can you look at Mummy now?" <another shove to my jawline, without even looking at me>

"Stop that! Mummy told you already - if you do that again, Mummy will smack you!" <he pushed his entire body against my chest, and used his fist to push the base of my throat>

I smacked his hand. Hard.
He yelled, and did it again.
I smacked again. Harder.
He was crying soundlessly by now, but managed to swat my face again.
I smacked him again, hard enough to leave a hand print.

Since IMM is a 5 minute drive away from home, between a toddler throwing a tantrum and getting him in and out of the harness safely while he wriggles and does back flips, I chose to keep him strapped to me instead of putting him in the car seat. In the car, he continued throwing his temper, sobbing, and pushed me away from him, while pointing to his car seat. I calmed myself down and spoke him as I do normally, explaining to him why I smacked him, and that it hurt me more than it did him.

He cried angry tears... and refused to let me pull him close to me. He held his head rigid, and resisted my efforts with a strength that belies his age and size. Then he fell asleep. Upright, without leaning against me as he usually does.

We reached home and half an hour later, at 8.30pm, he woke up - and had his bath. I prepared his dinner for him, and he ate with relish (of course he did, it was waaay past his dinner time, and even toddlers who needed to prove a point get hungry). Bath and Dinner was done by a meek and (I think) contrite boy, who refused to be away from me, and leaned his head on my body the entire time he ate. He went to sleep clutching my hand, with his body wedged close to mine... and what broke my heart was the sorry, pleading look in his eyes as I read him his bedtime story. He did not sleep till I told him that Mummy will not be angry with him if he doesn't try to do things to test us, and whatever that we tell him to do is always for his own good. Most of all, he should never, ever hit or fight Mummy, or any woman, for that matter.

He woke up twice in the middle of the night and groped for me, falling asleep again when he held my hand in his.

The next day, we dropped him off at my in-laws' place while he was still asleep in the morning, because I think all that tantrum throwing and river of tears took its toll on him. When he saw me at the door in the evening, he practically ran to me and hugged my legs, and asked to be carried. He's usually never demonstrative, choosing to just wave and blow me a kiss to acknowledge my presence before continuing to play while we have our dinner. He refused to be put down, and kept his head buried at my neck until the time when I put him in his car seat to make our way home. I told him over and over again that I'm no longer mad at him, and I love him more than anything else in the whole, wide world (Daddy protested at this, which was met by a youshaddaplah! between clenched teeth).

I try to be firm, but at the same time I recognise that nothing infuriates these little Neanderthals more than Homo sapiens logic. They just want to be heard, their emotions acknowledged and a tantrum is best controlled by the simple, "I hear you. I feel you." But what should I do when he fights me? I don't want it to escalate to a point whereby he thinks punching, kicking and hitting Mummy is fine, because I don't think it is - not in any society, culture, or way of life.

I don't believe in sparing the rod... I will wield it the times when I deem it necessary. Little kids want to have their emotions addressed and acknowledged, just like adults, and I think the biggest challenge facing us right now is to maintain that cool head when a meltdown happens and testy troll with a sneer and a rebel yell takes over the happy tot with the megawatt smile.

I'm going to go by instincts, and even though I'm against being 'influenced by parenting-help books, I may perhaps consider reading this book by Harvey Karp, M.D.: 
The Happiest Toddler on the Block: The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One-to Four-Year-Olds.

• The “Charming Chimp-Child” (12 to 18 months): Wobbles around on two legs, grabs everything in reach, plays a nonstop game of “monkey see monkey do.”

• The “Knee-High Neanderthal” (18 to 24 months): Strong-willed, fun-loving, messy, with a vocabulary of about thirty words, the favorites being “no” and “mine.”

• The “Clever Caveman” (24 to 36 months): Just beginning to learn how to share, make friends, take turns, and use the potty.

• The “Versatile Villager” (36 to 48 months): Loves to tell stories, sing songs and dance, while trying hard to behave.

According to Dr. Karp, I have to learn to reach inside me and try to experience the same emotions that he feels at that current moment, and be able to say in all sincerity: "I know just how you feel."

Wish me luck.


  1. Wow, sounds like the day took a toll on Mummy Moo too. I have no wise parenting tips to share on "what to do" and the "what not to do". I have my fair share of battles with the little one too and one ended just on Sunday with me slamming the gate. :( I usually take time out when things get trying and I know I will snap.

    Baby Moo is sweet in the sense he clearly knows that he did something wrong. They will continue to toe the line and challenge us along the way as they grow into their own little persons. Just know that you are not alone; we have (and are for many of us) are going through it too. :)

    1. Yes... I take comfort in the fact that he knows he's wrong, and he is at least displaying some form of 'guilt' at what he did.

      They are constantly pushing boundaries. I need lots and lots of patience to deal with this one.

      Thanks, A! :)

  2. Hi Regina!

    We were just analyzing handling tantrum methods as well as how to discipline children yesterday in class. And while I thought my time out works ok, the lecturer actually shared a technique with us that she assures will work well on kids. See while they throw tantrums, it's cos that have too much excess anger and energy to let off. So she said, put them in a place with a box a crayon and some papers and tell them to draw circles. Just keep drawing until they calm themselves down. It allows the child space to let out their anger, frustration and tantrums while drawing with utmost energy and strength. In a bout five-ten mins, they should simmer down and then u sit next to them and reason out why they five minutes time out was needed. :) hope it helps! I'm gonna change my disciplining method to this and pray for success lol!

    1. Nadia, now the trick is to get him to sit down to make him draw those hypnotic circles!! Haha!!

      I will try that once he's older and hopefully is able to understand better. Right now, it's truly a test of patience... lucky I love that boy plenty many!

      Sometimes I wonder what anger and energy they have to let go off. All they do is eat, sleep, play and make Mummy busy. Good life! :D

  3. Oh geez, you got me all teared up in front of my work comp with your heartfelt post man. As they say, "疼在儿身痛在娘心”which simply means though the pain is inflicted on the kid, it hurts in the mum's heart too. I can totally resonate with you. Ally is definitely in that testy phrase. There are times that my inner heart tells me "to be patient" and use love to influence Ally, there are other days where my hands are quicker than my mind. I remembered smacking her mouth when she bit me yesterday out of her anger as she was struggling with me over some thing which I can't recall now. Apart from all these, this little Neanderthals are really sweet little creatures. They are like little tsunamis now. Yes, a lot of patience sure goes a long long way now. Be calm and keep cool ...

    1. Thanks, Yvonne... it's heartening to know that I'm not alone in this. It's really painful when 1) they inflict hurt on us 2) when we have to discipline them and inflict what I believe is more psychological hurt to them than anything else.

      We know what we ought to do, but at trying times when they really push the buttons, it can be tough to maintain a cool and calm composure. Be it because they are frustrated or are unable to convey their needs as well as they would love to, I try to remind myself that they are just discovering the world, and everything is all brand new to them - thus the curiosity. They are also coming in touch with their emotions, and finding out what it's like to feel sad, happy, anger and love. We are also in the process of discovering them, and getting used to a separate little person with their own thoughts and personalities.

      I hope it does get better and more manageable in time. Like everything else, we try and try - because we love them so much.

  4. Ah~ the not looking at you when you scold him "stunt" is so familiar. My boy do it all the time. Whenever, he gets a scolding he try to charm us by smiling at us. If that fails, he will just look left and right except at our face. So we will "corner" him and make him look at us. And soon he will cry. But unlike your boy he will not try to "hug" us after that. He will turn to the other party that didn't scold him.*Sigh*

    Anyway, I learn from my boy's teacher that actually "hitting" him has no effect. Which I personally experience it. It works the first time, but subsequently, it loses its effect. She just recommend us to be consistently assertive. Sometimes it help to just distract him to other things. And they are really not trying to be funny but rather they are still unable to have "self control" and pushing boundaries are what they will do now.

    So lets just brace through these periods! :)

    1. BabyMoo does the same thing your son does when Daddy disciplines him - he will turn to me for comfort and for help. He will cry... but he knows that he can still turn to me, although I will just turn away because when he is being disciplined, he has to face up to it.

      It's different this time because I've never smacked him before, not even a teeny weeny touch because he is naughty. I think he knows that he's in big trouble because he has never seen or experienced Mummy so angry before. Perhaps I would not have smacked his hand if he did not use physical force on me, and he was just being impossible, but this time round, I felt that it was necessary because I do not want him to grow up thinking that it's ok to use his fists whenever he's angry.

      I agree about the self-control part. It's as hard for them as it is for us, this process of self discovery and growing.

      Thank you for leaving a note. I hope we get through it in the best way we can! :)



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