Raising kids is incredibly hard work, and in your bleakest moments, when you don’t know how you’re ever going to turn the defiant, uncontrolled, angry two year old into something that could pass for a human being, remember that good parenting sometimes only bears fruit years later. There’s no quick fix; there’s just endlessly, repeatedly doing the right thing (and doubting yourself) in the hope that one day, you’ll see results.
My children are loving, kind, clever and funny, but they are tantrum throwers. Call it luck of the draw, call it genetics, call it how much I did or didn’t rock them when they were babies, call it what you will – my kids throw spectacular fits. When they did it during the terrible twos, it was awful and upsetting but at least they didn’t seem capable of much rational argument so there was nothing to discuss, really. The second round of tantrums, at four (the age they describe with that F word), is much rougher because a) it really feels like they should have grown out of it, and b) they argue with you rather than just screaming “I want...” over and over.
Recently, I had a particularly bad session with my son. He wouldn’t get in the car, he wouldn’t get out the car, he was upset that he stayed in the car with his dad while I shopped, he wouldn’t get out the car at the park because he was upset about missing the shopping, then he was upset because he missed walking the dogs at the park, so I told him to stop screaming or he couldn’t watch TV, but he kept screaming, so I told him he couldn’t watch TV, so he called me a meanie. Later, I said to my husband, “I don’t know what we’re doing wrong. We’re good parents. We never give in. We’re firm. We’ve never rewarded this behaviour. And yet he carries on...”
Then, the penny dropped. I remember saying this before. I said exactly the same words about my daughter. “We’re doing everything right! Why doesn’t she stop?”
But here’s the thing. She did stop. She stopped about a year later. From one day to the next, we found that we no longer had to carry out our threats because she anticipated the outcome, and reined herself in. I’d say, “If you do that again, I am going to take away your sticker book.” And she would think about it, and stop. Sometimes she’d even say sorry. She’s six now, and we’re working on not having to make the threat at all. I’ll let you know how that goes in about a year...
This brings me to my point. Parenting is a long game. Cause and effect move at the pace of glaciers. You don’t do the right thing and get the right result in an instant. You’re dealing with people who don’t have the fine motor coordination to brush their own teeth. You can’t expect them to work it all out in a hurry. You have to pick a parenting path and walk it, doggedly, saying the same things to your child over and over again, until one day, that neural pathway is formed and your child doesn’t call you a meanie for delivering the very punishment that you just said you would.
What parenting doesn’t come with is a magic “off” button that allows you to rid yourself of problems or challenges in one go.
They often say that parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual. This isn’t strictly true. There are loads of resources that you can turn to. What parenting doesn’t come with is a magic “off” button that allows you to rid yourself of problems or challenges in one go. All those resources offer strategies – strategies that take time and careful implementation.
Nothing you do will make your son stop throwing tantrums (or wetting his bed or being shy or telling people how funny they look) TODAY, but some things you’re doing every day – being firm but kind and making decisions that come from a loving place – mean that he’ll emerge a better, calmer, more self-controlled human being about a year later. And you know you can count on that.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.