The boys are playing peacefully, building with their lego blocks and chatting as they build. I am enjoying a book, reclined on a sofa with a glass of chilled sweet lime water. The big boy is catching an afternoon nap and everything seems just perfect.
Suddenly, one of the twins (almost 5 yrs) screams while the younger fellow (now 3) runs off with his brother’s lego plane, bits of it dismantling as he runs.
Nish: He is breaking it!
Amu: These are all my pieces, you can’t use them.
Might prevails (for the moment) and Nish manages to wrestle some pieces back from Amu. I hold Amu firmly because I see him lunging forward to attack his brother. Now Amu is mad and as his lower lip pouts out and his eyes glare at me I know the storm is about to hit and another tantrum is ready to be unleashed. Amu yells, throws the remaining pieces of lego on the ground, yanks my cushion off the sofa and flings it down. Still full of energy and anger, he looks around the room for something else to throw. I rescue my lime water just in time and he gets madder. At this point I am glad he is looking at objects and not his brothers to direct the anger at. There are times when he scratches and hits them and that is not pleasant.
Over the last month I have changed strategies. I used to hold him and tell him to stop what he was doing, i would point out to how things were being broken or someone getting hurt…usually it had very little impact.Or i would lose it and yell. And yelling at him did not help. he would get more upset and angry and destructive.
Now, i try to pick him up gently and talk to him. I say things like: I know you are really upset sweetie…why are you so angry?
Or, “Hey can we fix this together? Do you want a little help putting this back?”
Or “why are you crying and shouting? Are you angry? Or upset? or sad about something?”
This sometimes helps him stop and think a little bit which buys us some cooling down time.
I try and help him calm down first, maybe focus on something else till he is a little cooler to discuss what had upset him. I find that sometimes showing him something interesting helps distract him a little too. But usually i simply hold him close and very gently try and talk him through his temper.
And slowly introduce strategies that he can use – words instead of hands is one of the things we have been talking about.
Last night as we were in bed getting ready to sleep, he asked me and dad: “hitting is not good is it? it can hurt people. It’s not nice”
Dad agreed with him.
AMu: but sometimes i get very angry and people bother me – then i hit
Me: yes – i know …what bothers you?
Amu: when they take my stuff or bother me
Me: yeah – i know you get upset, but we just have to figure out a better way to tell them that.
He agreed…so at least he is slowly processing things. The tantrums are still very much a part of our day – multiple ones at this point. And I am not saying my approach has changed that. However, if at least he can channelize his anger better, slowly be able to voice his feelings and also recognize different ways of venting it is a step forward. And the important message that I feel this approach gives him is that we understand..we get that he is angry and we respect that and we still love him to bits… which is where i feel that the yelling and reprimanding or punishing just seems to fail.
If i were to yell at that tiny 3 year old bundle of dynamite for every tantrum thrown I don’t even want to think about what that would do to his self esteem. He is at an age where he getting more and more independent, and yet is in control of such few things..he is the youngest of his brothers, always trying to catch up and probably does not know how to vocalize, reflect on what he feels – of course this is upsetting (how many of us adults have mastered that?).
And i know (i hope) that this phase too shall pass!