As the mother of a 2.5-year-old, I’m no stranger to tantrums. Like many children his age, my son has the ability to go from calm and content to unsettled and outraged within a matter of seconds. Sometimes all it takes is a simple “no” to set him off; other times, he’ll start throwing a fit in response to tripping, falling down, or dropping one of his toys accidentally.
For the past few months I’ve tried responding to his tantrums both by reprimanding him for acting out and soothingly trying to talk him down, but neither tactic has worked particularly well. So recently, I’ve been trying something new: responding to tantrums with silliness.
When my son starts getting out of hand, I’ll respond by dancing around like a lunatic, making funny faces, or taking his toys or books and trying to balance them on my head (yes, I know that last one is particularly weird, but it’s funny–to him–and it helps snap him out of his screaming spirals). Combating those inevitable tantrums with silly behavior has been my most effective tactic to date. Acting nutty somehow disarms him in a way that talking soothingly does not. Or, maybe it just serves as a better distraction. No matter the logic behind it, I’m on board as long as it continues to work.
I do, however, have one concern with this approach–that it doesn’t address the fact that tantrums, common as they may be at my son’s age, are an unwarranted, inappropriate, and unproductive response to disappointment. I’m glad I’ve found a way to make the yelling and foot-stomping cease, but am I doing my son–and myself–a disservice by glossing over the root of the problem?
I’m not sure how to answer my own question. On the one hand, reasoning with a 2.5-year-old seems like a waste of mental and emotional energy. After all, the ability to recognize behavioral flaws is not a reasonable skill to expect from a toddler. On the flip side, if I continue this pattern of not acknowledging his fits while they’re happening and employing my distraction technique, will I be setting myself–and my son–up for disaster? What happens when he starts throwing a tantrum and I’m not around? I’m sure his teachers at daycare aren’t about to start bouncing around the classroom with books on their heads. And though he’s witnessed the success of the silliness approach, even my husband refuses to take part in it.
At the end of the day, this is probably one of those situations where there’s no right or wrong answer. Hopefully at some point something will click in my son’s head to help him realize that there are better ways to respond to disappointment than his current M.O. And until then, if I have to act like a bumbling fool to keep those fits to a minimum, so be it.