Parenting Like a Prize Fighter

When my oldest daughter was little, she had what might have been the loudest meltdown our local grocery store ever experienced.  She wanted Care Bear Stickers.  I said no.  The rest will go down in the books as one of the greatest dramatic displays known to man.

girl-temper-tantrumAbby was the was the queen of temper tantrums.  I can say this with complete confidence.  As the saying goes, it takes one to know one.  I can still remember throwing my older sister’s doll down the stairs, stamping my feet and screaming “I’m not tired!” when my mother made me lie down for a nap.

Temper tantrums are no fun.  For anyone.  But here are a few ideas.  Keep in mind, I am not a child psychologist, a doctor, a behaviorist, or an expert of any kind.  I am a mother.  And a grandmother.  I don’t know everything, but I can show you the ropes. (Note the boxing idiom.)

Please note that I hate blood sports and I know nothing about fighting, but bear with me… this is a good analogy.

Somewhere along the line, I figured out that parenting is a lot like prize fighting.

When boxers are in the midst of being beaten up by their opponents, they have three choices. They can take a dive.  They can push away or they can pull in close to their opponent.

Taking a dive may seem like the most appealing option, but essentially, once the count reached three, you’ve lost the match.  You will never go on to win the Title.  And you are branded as a sucker.  Forever. This may work in the ring, but as a parent it’ll never wash.  You love your kids.  You cannot give up on them.  And, believe me, you don’t want to be branded as a sucker. That will only invite trouble further down the line.  The only suitable choice is to hang in until the bell rings and you get a breather.

How does one hang in?

Prize fighters either push away from their opponent or the pull in so close that the opponent can’t punch them. Kids have remarkable stamina when it comes to temper tantrums, whining, insisting, and other annoying behaviors.  Sometimes you may feel that if you hear, “Mmmoooommmmmmmyyyyy!” or “But WHY?” or “They always, we never!” one more time, you will explode.  When you’ve had all you can take, you might want to pull away for a moment or two, so you can calm yourself.  Go to another room.  Send your little monster/spawn of Satan/spoiled brat loved one to a time out area, or to spend the afternoon with Grammie.  But this is a temporary solution meant only to catch your breath.

The real magic happens when you pull your child in close.

When prize fighters are nearing exhaustion, have been getting the punk kicked out of  "I'll let you go if you promise not to hit me again!"them, and can’t take one more blow, they pull into their opponents and hug them close.  Now, let it go on the record that hugging a half-naked, sweaty enemy whose main goal is to punch my lights out is not my idea of a good time.  And sometimes, pulling a screaming, sweaty four-year-old away from the candy section of the grocery store is almost as bad.  But these are our children we are talking about.  The fruit of our loins. The product of our love.  I have found that when our children are at their nastiest, we need to pull them in close.  Hug them.  Kiss their sticky, teary little faces.  Talk to them in calm, reassuring tones. Remind them that when they are at their worst, we still love them the best.  This is not rewarding bad behavior.  It is digging beyond the surface to address the deep desire we all have to be loved, even when we don’t deserve it.

This may seem paradoxical, but when we pull our rotten, whining, fighting offspring close to our hearts, they start to relax. They stop crying.  They begin160608_FAM_RAMO_tantrum_illo_a.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2 to allow you to give eye contact. They begin to listen to you, and wonder of wonders, they even start to obey. You may not exactly have won the round, but you haven’t lost either.  And by the time the bell rings and you look at that soft, sweet angelic little person snuggled into your arms, the reason for the fight seems not important at all.

There are those who might say this is spoiling the child.  I am not saying that you throw in the towel (See?  Another boxing metaphor) and give your cherub the candy/toy/money/phone that she’s screaming for. We can stand firm in our decision, but lavish the love at the same time.  There may be tears, but if we love her until the bout is over, we may all come away with fewer bruises. title

After all, if our kids aren’t worth fighting for, what is?

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Temper, temper…

When was the last time you threw a temper tantrum?  As a child, I was a master- I could stomp and scream and pound my pillow with the best of them.  I even broke several objects, including a doll that belonged to my sister, at least that is what she tells me.  I don’t really remember.   Funny how that works.

I do remember stamping my foot in the bathroom while my mother prepared me for a nap.  “I’m not tired!” I whined.  It is true, you know, that Mother knows best.

When my kids were little, they kept the family legacy alive.  One day, when Abby was four, I took her, Gabe and Elizabeth grocery shopping.  We got through the entire store without incident, and were headed toward the home stretch in the Health and Beauty Aids section, when Abby spotted a rack of Care Bear sticker books.  Of course, she wanted one.  Of course, they were not in the budget. 

When I refused her request, she decided to try another tact, and threw herself down on the floor, kicking and screaming for all she was worth.  That girl had pipes! People came running from all over the building to see what the problem was.  Gabe calmly sat in the grocery cart, munching bread through the plastic bag, while Elizabeth shoplifted from her perch in the pack strapped to my back.   I wanted to crawl under the shelf of Q-tips, or swallow an entire bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol.  I briefly considered leaving an entire basket of groceries where it stood to make a quick exit.  I even considered buying the damned sticker book.

Instead, I quietly picked Abby up, plopped her on her feet and half-dragged her, kicking and screaming, through the checkout.  As every parent knows, to let her win this battle is to lose the war.

Last week, an angry man yelled at me over the phone.  He was frustrated because he wanted an afternoon appointment for his child, instead of an evening one.  The evening was not convenient for him.  He had other things to do.

Despite my explanation that there were no afternoon appointments left, he continued to scream obscenities over the phone.  He finally ended with instructions to his wife, “Tell her I’m coming down there and I’m going to smash her f-ing teeth down her f-ing throat!” (His adjectives, not mine. Actually, I misquote.  He did not say “f-ing.”  He said the whole word.  But my mother would have washed my mouth out with soap for words like that, so I refrain.  Most of the time.)

In what world is it okay to make vile threats of bodily harm, just because you don’t get what you want?  The police called it “criminal threatening” and asked if I wanted to press charges.  His wife wanted to explain “their side of the story.”

Me?  I think maybe long ago, someone should have said “no” when he wanted a Care Bears sticker book. 

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