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A Loving Hold
by Janis Iaquinta
Reproduced with permission from The Diaper Rag (January 1998)
We had read all about tantrums and we have had our share. At 18 months, during my in-laws' first visit to California to see the "twins", Kelly had her first real McCoy complete with wicked self- biting. That drove us to call the pediatrician describing the "seizure" our usually-sweet daughter was having. He laughed. We were just beginners at the game of runaway emotions and we had a way to go.
One year later, we were still learning about managing the delicate out-of-balance of two-year- olds. Never surprise a toddler with something they won't want to do. One day Kendall was ushered upstairs to dinner without notice. She was adamant that it was NOT time to go and she began a strenuous protest. .For the first time her tantrum led her to do something that could really hurt - climb over the gate to the stairs to go back downstairs. She was relentless. Our only option was to physically restrain her.
It was as I imagined a demon possession would be. Noises rose from her that I've only heard from baby lion cubs. Her strength increased tenfold. In between the thrashing were bites from a person fighting for her life. Each bite not only hurt me, but surprised the little girl hiding behind the beast in charge.
The experts suggest you try tightly holding your toddler. It sometimes helps them to "keep it together when they're falling apart. A tight hold can also help dissolve anger (both in the toddler and the parent), with the hold often turning into a hug as control and composure are regained. Perhaps. Holding either Kendall or Kelly mid-tantrum has always resulted in increased resistance.
We've managed by keeping a distance, while within the child's view, and waiting until their energy was no longer about the catalyst, but rather just being sad and frustrated. At that point, I've been able to walk up and ask for permission to hold them, "May I love (hug) you?" Only then did physical contact work, but by then relief was an immediate.
The other tips included in "What to Expect the Toddler Years" by Eisenberg, Murkoff and Hathaway were to speak softly; don't use a big stick; don't try to reason (this one especially NEVER worked for us); protect your toddler by moving them to a safe place to kick and thrash, express empathy; try distracion; sit on the floor by them; and ignore the tantrum and let it run its course.
What you do afterward is probably just as important as which of these you choose to do during - let them know you love them in spite of what just happened. Quickly move to something enjoyable and rebuild her confidence with your praise. It's surprising how quickly they can become themselves again once the frenzied energy subsides.
We all have our moments when the feelings we have overwhelm us, and we are at a loss for the best way to channel that energy. The process of learning takes a lifetime. Thankfully the biting and thrashing only exists in a short window early in life. Then again, there was that time this summer in Target...
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