I’ve often joked about Dylan’s epic temper tantrums—remember the dog hair?—but I guess I never thought he was particularly out of the ordinary in this regard. Some kids are prone to tantrums, some aren’t, right? But probably most are. That’s why they call it terrible twos, after all.

Yesterday, however, when JB picked him up from school and Dylan was in the midst of some angry tirade about god knows what, his teacher confessed that no one in class tantrumed quite like Dylan. She said it lovingly and with a rueful shaking head, but still. You don’t like to hear that it’s your kid who’s the very best at being very bad, you know?

He get so furious, so upset about the stupidest toddler-sized things, and I know that’s par for the course. 2-year-olds go all Naomi Campbell at the drop of a hat because that’s how they’re wired: with a jumble of frayed, sparking electronics half-submerged in water.

They may lose their shit when faced with the terrible injustice of having to wear shoes, but they’ll go equally ballistic with joy over spotting a squirrel outside. Toddlers are binary creatures and they pretty much either suck or are awesome, with few in-betweens. I know this.

Ah, but still. I feel this creeping sense of failure. Why is it my kid who’s top of the class in shit-losing? What are we doing wrong that he can’t be calmed out of a tantrum, that we’re at his mercy until he’s goddamned well decided to be done?

We try distractions, soothing. We lose our own tempers and yell. We send him to his room. In the end, nothing really helps but time.

Afterwards he wants to be hugged, he buries his little wet face in our necks. It’s like we forget he isn’t in control, in those maddening minutes. We can’t seem to help him get control.

Meanwhile, I worry about my boy Riley, whose reactions to getting hurt are equally epic in sheer energy expenditure. The screaming, the flailing, his crazymaking refusal to allow comfort. Later, the giant damp eyes, the quiet, and my fearful wonder of whether or not we made the situation worse with our own frustration and impatience.

Different issues, same loss of control. Same inability to cope. Same parental bumbling—what do I do, what do I do, what do I do. Ultimately, the parents end up in the same place as the children: operating by emotion, filled with regret afterwards.

And how ridiculous it is, how stupid and painful to admit that I have this hope or expectation that they can learn to control themselves better—when I can’t seem to do it myself.

Comments

78 Responses to “Cloudbursts”

  1. June on August 13th, 2010 12:37 pm

    Have you done any reading about temperament? A lot of “unusual” behavior is actually normal, given a particular temperament, but perhaps not quite fitting in neatly with the expectations of teachers, administrators, parents, etc.

  2. Amy on August 13th, 2010 1:14 pm

    Oh, amen! Our youngest is starting kinder next week and not only do I expect that he will be top of his class in breakdowns, he will probably also be the tallest in his class. His size and lack of emotional control make me worry about calls from the school, but this too shall pass. On the other hand, he is also the sweetest, funniest most tender boy in the world!! Dylan maybe tops at tantrums, along with Nicky, but I bet they are also second to none in sweetness and love. Let’s just hope the sweet out weighs the rest!!

  3. Maura on August 13th, 2010 1:28 pm

    My oldest son now 17 was very emotional and could not wind himself down out of any tantrum all the way through 5th grade. I thought I was going to go insane. I remember begging the YMCA after school program not to kick him out. The day he turned 11 something clicked, he emotionally grew, no more outbursts, he focused on schoolwork and the rest is history. He will graduate high school this year god willing without a detention, a bad grade or a negative comment.

  4. Keri on August 13th, 2010 1:29 pm

    I don’t know if it’s Dylan who’s sick right now, but my kids are always a terror right before showing signs of an illness. Then of course I feel badly for thinking they were the spawn of the devil the day before. Maybe Dylan had the tantrum of the century because he was getting sick??

    Anyway… I feel you.

  5. Kriss on August 13th, 2010 2:12 pm

    I always say my son is a screaming, headbanging poster for birth control. You too, eh?!?

    No helpful advice from me, either. Just know you’re not the only one who yells more often than she means too.

  6. adequatemom on August 13th, 2010 3:14 pm

    Oh, I hear ya. Wish I had a magic answer to make it all better but since I don’t – just add my empathy to the pile.

  7. Amy W. on August 13th, 2010 4:50 pm

    I’m right there with you.

  8. MelV on August 13th, 2010 5:28 pm

    aaaand once again you’ve spoken right into the heart of my world. That last sentence in particular really struck me. Its so easy to rocket right down to their level when you’re in the heat of things and it just seems easier to scream back then to reign it in. I have no advice, just support.

  9. Beth on August 14th, 2010 6:33 am

    I am so glad to have discovered your blog. I have a 4 year old who has had such epic tantrums this summer that I was worried that something was truly wrong with him. I am in the process of getting divorced, so it is as tempting as ever to blame myself and his dad. Why do we, as mothers, do this to ourselves? As commenters have pointed out some children seem to be wired this way. I will take comfort in knowing that, alas, others are in this boat. Also, though, I do think that the cliche is true: we can only control ourselves. When my 4 y.old is tantruming, it takes every ounce of my self control to not get upset. And because anxiety is at the core of his tantrums, forcing him to stay in his room exponentially increases his stress, anger and fear. So, instead I need to watch him… I will try the zen approach. I look forward, too, to hearing how your child evolves. Thank you for this.

  10. Val on August 14th, 2010 11:40 am

    Hang in there. You’re doing a great job.

  11. Redbecca on August 14th, 2010 8:50 pm

    Language is really helping with our boy, about 6 months older than Dylan. The tantrums have started to fade now that he has more words to express himself. Heading them off at the pass (sometimes we can see the windup). His shriek can still stun elephants at 100 paces, though. REALLY looking forward to getting out of that phase. Mr. Loudmouth Dictator-Pants, indeed!

  12. Susan on August 15th, 2010 7:11 am

    I stood where you stand years ago. Mine are 27, 23, and 12 now, and I faced down some of the worst tantrums that witnesses still talk about today. (My oldest slapped the glasses off the face of an elderly relative trying to “talk her down” in the midst of one of her tantrums.) I worried daily about what my kids would do during their toddler years. At some point, I decided that removing them from the immediate vicinity, finding a more private area, and calmly sitting with them as they eventually wound down was the best course of action for me and my children. (Honestly, the first time I did this was out of sheer exhaustion and defeat. It accidentally worked!) They learned that I would always be there for them, and love them without condition. I also helped them learn how to make amends, or apologize, or whatever the occasion called for. All three are very strong, talented, and emotionally honest. And I believe all three are able to love without condition. I couldn’t ask for more. Just keep loving your boys, and make your decisions with that as your anchor. You won’t go wrong.

    Love your blog!

  13. Jen on August 15th, 2010 10:58 am

    I don’t think there’s anything you’re doing wrong- I think some kids are just more… passionate? is that the right word? and honestly, that will be a very good thing later in life :) Right now though… yeah. Exhausting.

    I just have to say: “Toddlers are binary creatures and they pretty much either suck or are awesome, with few in-betweens.” is now my new favorite quote. SO. TRUE. OMG.

  14. Lyn on August 15th, 2010 1:00 pm

    I agree with all the above; I strongly believe its not bad parenting in ANY way; just dealing with a hyper-sensitive boy-o. I know cuz I was one of those dramatic wailing drama filled tantrum throwing kids too. Its because once we start; the horror of it makes us continue.
    I’m 46 and I still remember the horrorible overwhelming fits and the tired and exasperated looks on my poor Moms face. She still hasnt forgiven me to this day for what an “awful” child I was so I’d say the important thing for you to do is to FORGIVE yourself for not liking it and forgive him for not being able to help it.

    (((HUGS)))) while you deal with this stage.

    -from a long time reader
    Lyn

  15. Sarah on August 15th, 2010 1:47 pm

    My friend, let’s call her M, has a son just two weeks younger than Elliott and he does everything 150%. When he smiles, it’s pure amazing joy, and when he tantrums, it’s like demons have possessed his body. The screaming, the FROTHING AT THE MOUTH, the fish-flopping all over the place. He can easily go on for 45 minutes and NOTHING stops him. M has even tried spraying him with the hose (for the record, that made him madder). Once, she tried wrestling him into his carseat and he was so PCPed up that he BROKE THE CROTCH BUCKLE. And after it’s all over, the kid is understandably spent. He doesn’t know what hit him and he’s all tears and snuggles and I love you’s. It’s heartbreaking.

  16. meg on August 15th, 2010 1:51 pm

    i dont know if this would help but i believe it does with my child. my little girl is 3 1/2 and learned to tell me what she wanted when younger by using sign language. she isn’t deaf at all but we learned it with Signing Time which is a kids show. u can find it here: http://www.signingtime.com/ there are lots of benefits from children who learn sign like early reading and larger vocabularies and less tantrums b/c they can express themselves more. joey watches it now and shows me the new signs she’s learned. also i guess just don’t forget to try to explain to dylan what is expected of him and/or not expected of him in certain situations. me and joey talk about all kinds of different things and it helps her to know what to expect and how to act. like we talked about the dentist before we even went and i said what he does and he will look in her mouth and count her teeth etc. and she was able to handle going to the dentist better than if i think i hadn’t explained anything. i hope these suggestions help. good luck :)

  17. Sarah on August 15th, 2010 1:55 pm

    Oh, and M would probably strongly recommend reading “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It’s helped her to understand her son’s temperament quite a bit. She just figures she’s parenting a future drama club student. I think she’s likely right. :)

  18. Mimi on August 15th, 2010 6:50 pm

    God, this sounds just like my two boys. And I am just as confused as you are.

  19. heronlineidentity on August 15th, 2010 9:04 pm

    I was that child. As an adult I found out that I’m allergic to red food coloring. Turns out my tantrums may have been caused by that allergy. Maybe try cutting out red #40 from his diet?

  20. Clueless But Hopeful Mama on August 16th, 2010 4:47 am

    I agree with the folks who said that having language might make a big difference for Dylan. At the risk of giving assvice, can I just ask if you’ve tried The Happiest Toddler on the Block techniques?? “Toddlerese”? It really helped my older daughter when she was Dylan’s age. Basically, you get down on their level and matching their intensity, voice what you think they’re feeling for them, in VERY simple language: “Dylan says NO SHOES. NO SHOES MOMMY.” etc. until they stop tantrumming. This would always get my daughter to calm down. It seems she just wanted to be heard and understood.

    Either that or she had to quiet down enough to laugh at her mother acting like a verbal two year old.

  21. kali on August 16th, 2010 9:15 am

    Perspective helps. That takes time, which is no help right this minute when you need it. –sigh–

    When it isn’t possible to sooth or reason with someone (child OR adult) it is best for your own sanity to contain them where they cannot harm themselves or others until they calm down. Let them own their tantrum. They won’t learn to manage them until they are given the opportunity to do so. Yes, it may take a while. Yes, that is really-really hard.

    I really-really wish I had learned this sooner with my two.

    You’re doing good. Trust yourself.

  22. Tracey on August 16th, 2010 11:01 am

    If it makes you feel any better…i’ve been reading your blog for a long time now and when you wrote about Riley as a toddler, it sounded much much worse. So perhaps that annoying phrase of “this too shall pass” might actually have some validity!

  23. beekeebear on August 17th, 2010 1:12 pm

    “As an adult I found out that I’m allergic to red food coloring. Turns out my tantrums may have been caused by that allergy. Maybe try cutting out red #40 from his diet?”

    ABSOLUTELY! My sister is a certified nutritionist and recommended this to the parents of an “out of control” boy at our parents’ church. He made a major turn-around. Try talking to a CN!

  24. Amy on August 18th, 2010 5:18 am

    This really helped me approach tantrums with less fear: http://www.mothering.com/parenting/cry-connection-fresh-approach-tantrums

  25. Alex@LateEnough on August 18th, 2010 7:45 am

    a reader sent this post to me because i’m navigating my almost four year old’s continues temper tantrums. he falls on the extreme end of normal according to our pediatrician and child psych (we decided to go ahead with a psych eval just to be sure there wasn’t more going on). our story is a bit different since it’s been going on longer and it is almost always directed towards me or scott (his teacher thought we should wait on the eval), but I struggle so much with handling it well and with the guilt of seeing myself in him. so we are doing family therapy for a few months.
    feel free to email me and i can send you the posts that i’ve done on it or just to chat. the women who reached out to me made a big difference in walking thru with some grace. otherwise, it’s hard having an intense child. but also lovely.

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  28. wm on September 1st, 2010 10:47 am

    I’m guessing a lot of it is inborn. Ours is easy and rarely tantrums. The twos, which we are almost through, have not been terrible at all. But I don’t think it’s because we are doing something right. We just got lucky to get a chill dude.

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