One Woman’s Story of Tantrum Survival

Sweet Baby V, in earlier years, snoozing peacefully in her car seat.

Today(Editor’s note: this was written last week), I passed a guy on the corner of a Rite Aid parking lot holding up a sign that said “Broke.  Odd jobs?”  And, I SWEAR, I almost paid him whatever was in my wallet (which was likely about two bucks) to help me strap my daughter, V in her car seat.   I was pulling over in the Rite Aid parking lot, after viewing a tantruming V, dripping yellow snot and tears, as she poked her beleaguered face into the rearview mirror.  Little miss thing had tantrumed and squirmed her way out of the car seat restraints.

We are the owners of one vehicle.  While in mid-sized city, Michigan, this worked for us because of the availability of public transportation; it is significantly more challenging to maneuver in small-town West Virginia.  Thus, every outing with V is a bit of a production as it involves me dropping my husband at work, then driving to said outing or waiting anywhere I can proximate to the outing destination rather than returning home, then back again, etc. All of this has to be coordinated around V’s nap; which is a scheduling nightmare of sorts because if I miss the window to get her home before she falls asleep, I either wake her and chance missing a naptime or sit in the vehicle for upwards of two hours.  And then I rush from V’s nap waking to give her snack, load her back in the car, and pick up my husband again.  We have to make this work financially, so we do, and I comfort myself that our situation is best for our budget and better for the environment, but some days, it can be a real pain in the rear.

So I was thrilled to find a local recreation center with an open gym time that started at the perfect time for me to drop off my husband and drive there directly, one that ended with enough time to get V home BEFORE her nap time started, so that I would not have to drive in circles or wait in the car for the duration of her nap.  This morning, having been cooped up since the New Year due to teething induced sleep deprivation, then a week of everyone in the house catching some nasty bug, I was excited to pack V in the car and spend two hours of the morning with her as she played ball, drove Fisher-Price cars, and bounced in bouncy configurations.  Our gym time went so well, and I thought, with two hours left before V’s naptime, that we’d have plenty of time to meet M at work for a family lunch.  So we did, and had a lovely time.

Then it came time to load V in the car.  At which point, today’s soul sapping tantrum began.  V yelling “My Daddy; My Daddy; My Daddy” inconsolably. V wanting to be comfort-nursed in the freezing cold compact car.  V wanting me to ride in the backseat. V running through the parking lot towards his office and fighting me with all her strength as I attempted to return her to the car; stiffening her legs so that I couldn’t bend her to fit her through the car door.  I put her in the car and shut the door to keep her safe from writhing out of my arms onto the concrete or running into traffic.  I tried calling my husband to talk her down; no answer.  I calmed myself down.  A little.  Then I opened the doors and wrestled her into her straps, as she continued screaming at the top of her lungs.  A university van passed, the driver watching me carefully to assess the situation.  I didn’t appreciate the stares.

I drove out of the parking lot, turning on Spanish guitar music, hoping the soothing sounds would calm one of us down.  “NO MUSIC!” from the backseat.  More shrieking.  More heartwrenching, “My Daddy” pleas.  I counted down each landmark on the way to our house, hoping I could make it to the next one, trying my Yoga breathing techniques to drown out the drama in the backseat.  This brings us to the aforementioned Rite Aid stop, about 5 minutes away from campus.  I pulled over, pulled V from the car seat, “Do you want to go in the store and look around until you calm down?”  “Yes.”  So we did; 15 minutes later, a relatively calm kid in my arms, I opened the car door to face tantrum take two.

Reflecting, reasoning, waiting, scanning the parking lot for any respectable looking person for help, I find only a guy in a white van with blocked out windows (I’m secretly convinced all serial killers drive these and so that’s not an option).  An ambulance pulled down the street; I wonder how much they’d charge me for services.  I check out the sketchy looking man scouting for odd jobs on the corner and reflect that odds are that he wouldn’t attack me in a visible parking lot in the middle of the day if I asked him to help, right?  I decide not to chance it. The fire station is across the street; maybe I can enlist a big burly man (or woman) to get her to just sit in the blessed car seat already.  More yellow-green snot flows.  I finally get her arms in her seat without bending them at such an angle that I’ll hurt her and pull the straps as tight as they’ll go.  She’s not scooching out this time.  Pulling out of the parking lot.  Two miles down the road, I hear silence in the backseat.  She’s asleep.

I finish driving home, run in to grab a book from the house.  I keep driving.  I get my oil changed.  I drive a half hour away to buy diapers and wait in the car reading Dr. Sears’ The Discipline Book.  I normally love the Sears’ parenting series, but today, having tried all the  strategies in the temper tantrum chapter, I find the advice insufficient and grating.  I work a couple of logic puzzles to focus my mind elsewhere.  I sit in the parking lot until she wakes up and we go in the store to buy diapers.  I prep her for the car seat, reasoning that we are going to pick up Daddy (a half hour late) and holding my breath until she’s in and settled.  THANK GOD!  The tantrums have been too frequent lately.  Only last week, I called my husband, begging him to come home, to change V’s diaper after a poop covered, bare-bottomed hour long wrestling and crying match to complete a simple diaper change.   I am so done with tantrums.

We’ve been through tantrum-filled weeks before.  Usually, V is teething or sick.  Usually the tantrums subside after a few days.  I know it is not a discipline issue; we’re pretty good on that front and everyone comments on how V is so well-behaved.  It’s just these days, V wants her dad.  And she’s what Dr. Sears has called a “high-need” child.  One that challenges, one that actively negotiates and barters at the age of two (“One sticker AND one candy, Daddy,” ” I need chi-chi (nursing), I grumpy.  Chi-chi helps, Mommy.”),  one that wants more time-ins, more nursing, more connection during sleep, more, more…and sometimes, we just can’t give her what she wants.  She has strong needs, strong emotions, and little ability to emotionally regulate at this point in her development.  I know this about my child.  But some days… some days, I want to enlist a stranger off the street to help me through the tantrums.  Or have a nursing free day so I can savor a glass of wine…or two.  Or take a long, uninterrupted nap.  Or call my mom and half-jokingly suggest she make the 10 hour drive from MI for a long weekend with her granddaughter (hint, hint, Mom!).

Have you ever been unhinged by a tantrum?

Linking up with Shell’s Things I Can’t Say for


12 responses to “One Woman’s Story of Tantrum Survival

  • Shell Things (@shellthings)

    Ugh. I think we’ve all been there. Thankfully, the tantrums usually don’t last long!

  • Kristin @ What She Said

    I typically only become unhinged by a tantrum at the end of the day when I’m tired and weary (naturally), or she’s just plain being unreasonable. The unreasonable tantrums-for-the-sake-of tantrums tend to send me from rational parent to crazy, wild-eyed, psycho hosebeast faster than the end-of-the-day tantrums, whereupon I usually just sadly sit there like a deflated balloon and watch her.

    Otherwise, I’ve learned that, with Vivian, it’s best to just ignore her when she starts throwing a tantrum. If I refuse to give it attention, then she usually stops and, within moments, is distracted by something else.

    The one exception to this is when she hits and/or screams – both chosen methods by which to display her anger. At this, on my doctor’s advice, I wait until she’s calm enough to hear me and then get down to her level and quietly (and briefly) explain that while it’s OK to feel angry, we may not hit and we may not scream. Then I say to her, “No hit, no scream,” like a little mantra, and ask her to repeat it back to me.

    She doesn’t always do it at first, opting instead to pout and turn away (which tells me she knows she’s done something wrong). But eventually, she comes around and will repeat it back to me, usually followed by (an unprompted), “I sohwee, Mommy.” Which, if I’m being honest, adds a little value to the tantrum – because I see firsthand that she’s learning the difference between right and wrong.

    And for those times when nothing gets through to her and she continues hitting and/or screaming, we employ the dreaded Timeout. In fact, last night she swiped at me and, not wanting to admit wrongdoing or apologize, she put herself in TO – and stayed there! It was all I could do not to laugh. 🙂

    Sorry V is going through a rough patch. And sorry about the daddy phase – we just went through one of those ourselves!

    • Pamela

      We do the same with the ignoring, then time outs for hitting/biting. I think you can feed a tantrum by talking too much; sometimes they just need time to feel their feelings and wind down. But sometimes, circumstances make those choices difficult, like when it’s time to get in a car seat, or when a nekkid, poopy butt is tantruming around the house. Those are the times that send me over the edge of being overwhelmed. Hopefully, we’ll be on the other side of this phase soon!

      • Kristin @ What She Said

        I hear you on those tricky circumstances. One morning last week, just before leaving for work, Vivian refused to put on her coat or take her antibiotic. We seriously needed to get out the door and I had zero patience for the stalling antics. So, I had no choice but to wrestle her coat onto her amid a screaming tantrum, and then pin her to the floor to give her the medicine. I hated it, she was hysterical, and the whole ordeal left me shaking and nearly in tears.

        After it was over, I got up and walked over to the sink to rinse out the syringe dispenser and try to collect myself while she did the same. And a moment later, in this pitiful shaky little voice, she said, “I sohwee, Mommy.” And my heart just broke. I told her I was sorry too, and gave her a hug and we went about our morning routine. And that’s the thing – no matter how terrible the tantrum is, she’s very resilient and forgiving and able to get over it quickly. A lot of kids aren’t like that, so as bad as the tantrums can be at this age, I consider myself lucky in that regards.

        At least that’s what I’m gonna tell myself. 😉

      • Pamela

        Oh sweetie, I’m sorry you had to do that. Been there with medical stuff too and I felt like a brute even though I knew it was necessary…

  • Arnebya @whatnowandwhy

    Zaid has crying fits and has only recently started disliking the car seat (usually only after he’s been in awhile and wants out). I will become unhinged primarily if it’s been a long day and I’m stressed and tired as well (like Kristin says above).

    I do believe that consistency is key. And the daddy phase does wear off. I’m sorry I don’t have more practical advice, but just know that I’ve been there, I am afraid of creepy men (or women) in white vans (never park beside a van; no one’ll see you when he grabs you!), and I’ve often looked around for a smiling woman with a kid or two of her own to just get an encouraging nod or smile.

    I do feel worse when he melts down in public b/c it gives the impression I can’t handle him. At home, sometimes I give in to whatever he’s screaming for or about (usually another movie, more grapes (you ate all the damn grapes!) and I know this doesn’t help b/c it confuses him and only makes it easier for me momentarily. Best of luck navigating it all. Hell, best of luck to us all.

    • Pamela

      Thanks so much for sharing and validating:) I agree about consistency; sometimes I’m better at this than others, but I try to balance being consistent with being developmentally appropriate about my expectations of her. I love that she LOVES her daddy; it is the sweetest thing ever and I feel sad for her when she is sad about them being apart for a while. But sometimes it’s rough to handle when I’m there and trying to help and she wants him and he can’t be there. Rough for all of us:) We’ll get through this though! Thanks for stopping by.

  • Juliana

    Caroline is our tantrum-thrower around here. I love that kid with every fiber of my being, but her tantrums can make life pretty miserable around here. She went through a phase recently where EVERY request of her was met with a tantrum. Anything that we forced her to do, she would tantrum. Luckily, it seems to be passing. But the worst tantrum I’ve ever witnessed personally was Caroline at 21 months, 5:30 a.m. the morning we were to fly to Florida on vacation. She was obviously exhausted and when I tried to change her diaper and clothes to get out the door for the airport, something in her brain switched and for about 20 mins she was a wild animal. I kid you not, I almost called off our vacation. I had never seen anything like it. I just thought, if she does this again on the plane, they will kick us off and I will be so humiliated. So, yeah Pam, you’re not alone. Caroline has also done the back-arching, won’t let you get her in the carseat move. I give her several opportunities to shape up on her own, and if she doesn’t, then I do whatever I have to do to get her in the seat. Thank God I’m not pregnant anymore. That was really hard on me when I was. But, we’ve got places to go and there are four other people in this family so she has to go with the flow. She seems to finally be getting it now. Good luck and know that you are not alone. Just about every Mom goes through this.

    • Pamela

      Thanks Jules. I love our strong willed girls; it will be an asset for them someday. Now if only their teenage years are smooth sailing…HA! Thanks for the love and support! Miss you!

  • Jessica@Team Rasler

    I’m so glad you’ve had other people validate that it’s not just V who is strong-willed and going through this tough phase. My oldest (a year older than V, I think, at 3.5) is the same way. Now, he does still have tantrums, but they are blessedly fewer and even more blessedly shorter-lived. However, I have several friends whose kids didn’t go through this, so they didn’t understand. I felt very alone and very much like a terrible parent because I think they wondered why he behaved like that so often. (Then their kids hit 3 and they all felt so sorry for themselves when their perfect children turned into little devils. By then? I knew how to deal with a lot of this stuff!) So yeah, most of us at least have been there.

    I, too, found most advice insufficient. Sometimes he was just going to pitch a fit several times in a row and make both of us cry by the end of the day. Remaining calm and consistent did help, but whenever I couldn’t manage it, I modeled an “I’m sorry,” got one in return, and consoled myself with ice cream after he went to bed! Wish I could give you more sage advice, but I think you’re already doing a great job. It will get better!

    • Pamela

      Thanks for your very supportive comments; I agree, modeling the “I’m sorry” when needed is very important. It’s tough because they don’t understand the reasons behind why we want them to do a particular thing, they just know they want to do another or they don’t want something to happen. It must be so frustrating for them. Hearing others share their struggles does help, but when the power plays start, I just really miss my daughter. I’m so happy when we reconnect after a tantrumy bout. Thanks for sharing!

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