Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NPR is not Always Right.

Cyd threw the biggest tantrum of her life yesterday. Over a cherry-flavored, heart-shaped sucker, which I told her she could not have. She threw herself on the kitchen floor and screamed and kicked for several days. Really, it must have been 10 to 15 minutes. I tried to talk to her and explain we were going to have dinner soon. Bad idea. Children hate to be reminded of broccoli when they want cute, heart-shaped candy.

In the midst of all this drama, I remembered a segment from NPR's "Sound Medicine": a very smart father, who happens to be a molecular biologist, described how babies/toddlers throw tantrums because they are so frustrated and are lacking in verbalization skills. To make matters worse, they become scared by their own emotions, so their tantrum spirals into an even more violent, emotional black hole that they cannot escape on their own. His solution is to first, "communicate safety" by moving close to them. Then explain to the child what they are feeling. "Verbalize their psychological interiors." Define it for them in order to make it less scary and more manageable. In his example, he told his two-year-old son, who was in the midst of a screaming fit, that the word for what he was feeling was "frustrated." According to this NPR guy, the kid looked at him with a sudden appearance of awareness and calmed down, so thankful to have this explained to him. Yeah, right.

I decided to try this with Cyd, as she was screaming her head off, laying on her back, and violently kicking the kitchen cabinets. "Cyd," I said, "you are ANGRY because you cannot have a sucker. You are MAD! And it's OK." There was no acknowledgement, much less a magical moment of revelation in her eyes. Instead, she growled a guttural growl. Like a lion. A very pissed off lion.
NPR guy: You're full of sh#t! It doesn't work. In fact, it made things worse. As soon as I tried to get near her, to ease her fear, she lashed out with escalating anger.

You know what did work? I gave her some space. I let her get it out of her system, checking on her every few minutes so she knew I cared that she was so upset. I told her I would read her "Llama Llama Red Pajamas" when she was ready. And when it was all over, I made a point to tell her it's OK to be mad and I kissed her sweet, tear-soaked cheek.

I suppose all those things I did were, in fact, a way to "communicate safety", just like the NPR guy advised. Damn it, NPR. I guess you are always right.

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