Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Meltdowns and parenting

Over Easter we went to the National Railway Museum in York. It's a very impressive place to visit, and I don't think you have to be a trainspotter to appreciate it. I particularly enjoyed sitting in the cabin of the famous Mallard (the fastest steam locomotive in history).

Unfortunately, JKY had a complete meltdown in the middle of the museum because he wasn't getting his own way. This was a Force 12 tantrum with foaming mouth, drooling snot and serious lashings out of extremities.

It lasted for 15 minutes.

As we tried to to calm him as patiently as we could, many many members of the public walked past (mostly families and older people). Although I tried to ignore them, I couldn't help thinking that as they walked past staring at us they were quietly judging our parenting skills and thinking things like: 'Just give him a big slap.', 'Don't pander to him', 'You're not doing it right', 'This is really spoiling it for the rest of us', 'Give him some chocolate or something'.

I'm sure in actuality, most of them knew exactly what we were going through and were just glad it wasn't them. However, it didn't feel like it at the time.

So, the next time you see one or two parents trying to calm down a screaming toddler, please don't judge them and bear in mind the following:

- Every child is different. What works for one child in terms of discipline probably won't work for another. God in His infinite wisdom made us unique - right from the moment we pop out of our mummy's womb. That's what makes parenting challenging sometimes - ultimately, it is up to the parent to try and figure out the best tactic for their little one.

- Toddlers are incredibly immature emotionally. They see things very black and white - plus, in their mind the entire universe orbits around them 24/7. You cannot reason with them in the way you can with a seven-year old, hence the stormy tantrums.

- Smacking or hitting a child is not necessarily the best option. I have become increasingly anti-smacking the more I have learnt about what is teaches to young minds. By hitting a child, you're basically saying it's OK to use violence to resolve an issue. For example, if a child hits you and you hit them back as a punishment, surely you're giving a confusingly mixed message and presenting yourself as a hypocrite).

- Youngsters over the age of two are constantly testing boundaries. It is their way of figuring out their place in the world around them. If boundaries exist in a family set-up they feel secure and protected (testing these boundaries are a way of checking they are still in force and that the security continues to exist).

- Bribing children with chocolate etc in order to behave sets a problematic pattern of behaviour for the future. It may make things easier in the short term, but will make life a lot harder later on. Children should simply do as their parents say with no answering back and no bribes. This is admittedly a high standard to expect but is at least something to aim for. (by the way, I'm not saying we've never resorted to a wee bit of bribery in the past but we at least try and keep it to a minimum!).

- Sometimes, the best-intentioned and most loving parent in the world will either get it wrong, forget to do the right thing or just be at the end of their tether. It happens to us all.

(By the way, I am not in any way writing this as if I'm some kind of authority on parenting - believe me, I'm not. I'm just making some observations based on my own experience, that's all.)

When a family is struggling in public with a tazmanian devil of a child, on the whole they are usually loving parents who are trying the very best to bring up their child in the right way. Only the very tiny minority of parents are neglectful or cruel to their offspring.

I think we handled JKY's behaviour as best we could. I can't think of how we could have done it any different without compromising our principles or losing it completely. So what if our son was screaming for 15 minutes? Eventually he calmed down and we were able to carry on.

No doubt there will be many more meltdowns of this scale to come (especially if we are blessed with another wee little one). I guess it's just part of earning one's Parenting Battle Scars.

Parenting Battle Scars - yeah! That makes the whole experience seem almost worth it!

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