Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Temper Tantrums: A Parent's Response Changes Everything

Temper tantrums.  Whether or not you're a parent, you've seen toddler temper tantrums at their worst, and we here in the Zoeller household are in the throes of them.  So we've done our share of experimenting with how to respond to them.  Of course, time out works wonders with one child while the other child becomes demonic as soon as she's behind the closed door of her bedroom.  A firm word works well with one while another ignores us or laughs at us.

To say the least, we're doing our best to screw up our children as we hop from one parenting method to another (because the one consistent thing every expert says is, "Consistency is the key to good parenting."  We're obviously not too consistent.).  1-2-3 Magic, Love and Logic, Toddler Wise, Raising a Strong-Willed Child, and countless bloggers have weighed in and influenced our practices in some way.  And while for each expert mentioned here I could list ten more, it wasn't until recently I looked to our Heavenly Father for the ultimate model in parenting.  While I am in no way a perfect person or mom, I'm learning along the way, and for the countless times I've failed, I've gotten a couple right along the way, and those couple are worth sharing and celebrating.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Lila and I had just dropped off some books at the library when Dan called and asked if I wanted to pick up some fast food for dinner on our way home.  Being right by an Arby's, I ordered a few sandwiches off their value menu and headed home.  Lila wanted to be sure I had ordered her some chicken nuggets, which I did not since the closest thing was a $3.99 order of chicken strips.  Sorry kid.  The $1 junior roast beef works just fine.  So our fun one-on-one trip was brought to a screeching halt since her world had obviously stopped spinning.  Huffs and puffs, glares, and kicking the back of the seat were only a few of her offensive tactics to let me know how greatly I had messed up.  And while my knee-jerk reaction in this situation is to raise my voice and to let her know that, "This is ridiculous.  We don't act this way!" something told me to bite my tongue.

A couple minutes later, I turned off the radio, looked in my rear view mirror and began.  "I'm thankful for Lila because she is such a funny girl who can always make me laugh.  What are you thankful for?"

Muttered response under her breath, "Dogs."

Me: I'm thankful for Aunt Jess because today is her birthday!  What are you thankful for?

L:  (muttered) Horses.

Me: I'm thankful for our warm house to keep us out of the cold.  What are you thankful for?

L:  Ummm, I'm thankful for Daddy.

And so on and so forth.  By the time we got home, we had a great ping-pong match of gratitude going.  I pulled into the garage and finished by saying, "I'm thankful for our family that we get to go eat dinner with.  Lets go get 'em!"  And together we bounded into the house happily.

Now, that right there would be a nice enough ending.  However, this was one of those times I was reminded that I am raising and polishing a jewel, and sometimes it takes a little effort to see that through the coal and dust.  Back to the dinner table.  I'm busy distributing everyone's food when my little Bug looks up at me and says, "Mommy, I'm thankful for my sandwich," which of course, was the original purpose behind it all.

And that was when the jewel glistened.  Even now I get teary eyed thinking about this.  How I ALWAYS have a choice in every circumstance to caustically respond to my child or to shepherd her heart.  And while these rugrats warrant a caustic reply every now and then, I think about how tender my Heavenly Father is with me.  Does he discipline?  Absolutely.  But when I complain to him, lay out my heart, make my feelings known, does he ever shame me?  Embarrass me?  Threaten me?  Never.  Always he shepherds.

Since then, I've found myself playing the thankfulness game on a few occasions, and while it sometimes requires me listing 10 things before she gets in on the game, my choice of gratitude always transforms her heart and brings her stinky little attitude around to one of thanksgiving as well.

I Love You, I Love You, I Love You

Due to Bear's developmental and speech delays, Lila is in many ways our eldest child, so she's a bit of the guinea pig for our parenting strategies.  She has been such a momma's girl lately, and while I normally wouldn't complain that my kid wants ME, this comes in the midst of Anna hitting a streak of terrible-twos as well as some illness in the house.  I just haven't figured out how to give when my kids need more of me than I have to give (grace).

Well, today at lunch was not an exception.  Anna and I were up and out of the house in the dark hours of morning to have tubes put in her ears, so not having mommy here to greet her put Lila on an emotional roller coaster once I returned home.  She suddenly needed me to do everything for her, didn't want the lunch I had prepared for her, and responded to everything with a puddle of tears pooling in her eyes and a bottom lip quivering.  So when I started to refill her drink and she began throwing a fit because (obviously I should have known) she wanted to do it herself, I kept my cool and said, "I allow little girls who use their words and speak kindly to refill their drinks."  To which I received foot stomping and panicked baby bird arm flapping along with a strangled cat mewing sound (good visual?).

After ignoring this behavior for a couple of minutes, I picked her up and bear hugged the heck out of that girl.  She tried kicking me, but I forced her head against my shoulder and just started saying, "I love you, I love you, I love you.  You are my best little buddy.  My favorite Lila Lou.  I love you to the moon and back and with my whole heart.  It does not matter what you do, how angry you are at me, if you kick me, if you yell at me.  You can never make me mad enough to not love you.  I love you, I love you.  I love YOU."  And repeated over and over again.  And the tantrum-demon departed and restored my sweet, sweet Lila to me.

Say what?!?  Did I want to yell at her and send her to time out for acting like I had shot her best friend when I was simply refilling her drink?  You bet!  Did she deserve an old-fashioned butt whooping?  Yep!  But man, these times are soooo rewarding when I choose to bow, to abandon my will and LOVE my child as the Father loves me.

Now guys, I would be lying to say if these two scenarios have been game changers in our house.  We are still in the midst of MAJOR wars of the wills...every single waking hour of the day.  I often throw my hands up, run my fingers through my hair, and look at Dan and say, "I just don't know what to do."  But if there's anything I'm learning is that parenting is not about exerting our wills on our children.  A dictatorship is.  But parenting is about guiding, shepherding, re-directing, loving.  We have a choice in how we respond, and that response is directed by prayer and time with the Father who always desires to shepherd our hearts.  If anything, these two scenarios are showing me that His grace and goodness are enough if I simply call on him to shepherd me in my parenting...that he desires to lead me in that, too.  May he always be our model in loving well.

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