Q: My 30-month-old has started throwing tantrums when I do not do what she wants. She cries, screams, tries to hit and bite me, and then, if I prevent her from hitting me, will hit herself. My mother says this needs to be nipped in the bud. She recommends spanking. I say my daughter doesn’t know what she’s doing and is too young to be disciplined for this. I’m also concerned about her self-hitting. What do you say?
A: Your mother is right. But I disagree with her recommendation that you spank your daughter when she has a tantrum. By the way, I prefer to call them “high self-esteem seizures,” because they are the rage of the naturally narcissistic child at having someone — a parent, usually — refuse to immediately satisfy his or her unquenchable lust for entitlement.
First, your daughter’s tantrums are knee-jerk reactions; nonetheless, she is an intelligent member of a self-aware species. Don’t confuse “she cannot explain what she is doing” with “she does not know what she is doing.” Believe me, she knows what she is doing. She is trying to get her way, and she believes that becoming an emotional volcano will accomplish that objective. You’ve probably given in a time or two, haven’t you? If a parent gives in to one tantrum out of 20, 20 more are instantly loaded into the clip.
Second, you should nip these seizures in the bud. However, I do not recommend spanking. I have no problem with spankings (research done by objective people does not find psychological harm, and even finds benefits, when spankings are infrequent and hand-administered by loving parents), but when the issue is a toddler’s tantrums, they are not likely to accomplish anything.
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Third, your daughter’s self-hitting does not merit concern. She does not hit herself randomly but only when you prevent her from hitting you. Under the circumstances, her self-abuse is known as a “displacement.” Also, she probably saw that hitting herself provoked a reaction from you, so she persists. She is, as I said, intelligent.
Fourth, the most effective means of nipping these seizures in the bud is to assign them to a designated tantrum place. When our daughter, Amy, was this age and her sense of entitlement got the best of her, my wife and I directed her or dragged her kicking and screaming to her special tantrum room — the downstairs half-bath. We put her in, told her that this was the only place where tantrums were allowed, encouraged her to scream, closed the door, and walked away.
For what usually was less than a minute, Amy would scream, shriek, kick and pound the door, and otherwise go berserk. Then she would become silent and, we assumed, sulk. Then she would emerge, go to her room and entertain herself as if nothing had happened. We even invented tantrum places on the spot if they occurred in public. One time, I confined Amy to a display bedroom in J.C. Penney’s until her tantrum over wanting a Dracula Colorforms set had subsided, during which time I sat in a nearby recliner, dreaming of a life in Tahiti without children.
In short, tantrums are no big deal unless allowed to become a big deal. With that in mind, nip away, Now, be a good daughter and go tell your mother she was right … mostly.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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