Parenting, Thing 3

Calming Versus Escalating

Wes had a tantrum the other night at the Super Bowl party. It started innocently enough (they always do) with him banging his head repeated against a chair (a nice old/fancy one) as he rocked back and forth and I kept telling him to stop and he kept ignoring me so I picked him up and removed him from the situation. My big priority was to avoid a scene in front of Family so I figured I would put him in timeout but I’d be in there with him.

But he wouldn’t stay. And he was getting more and more angry and while he hadn’t started hitting, he was pushing trying to get away from me and while I’ve been really good about not yelling, I tend to escalate punishments in those moments. “Okay, instead of time out for 5 minutes you have 20…now your screens are taken away…now your Pokemon cards…” and so on. But I knew we were in someone else’s house and I had to try something different so I went with a technique I’ve read about recently where you focus on getting them calm FIRST, punishments LAST.

I wrapped my arms and legs around him so he couldn’t fight me and I just held him and asked him to calm down. He was still fighting and telling me “You’re the worst!” and “Get your ugly legs off of me!” but he wasn’t hitting so I took the upper body freedom and started rubbing his back to calm him down. “I’ll start the clock when you calm down. I understand you’re angry but you need to calm down before it gets worse so I’m going to try to help you get calm…” and so on. He stopped struggling for the most part so I would say, “Okay – look at my watch…5 minutes of time out,” and then he’d fight again – but just a little – so I’d say. “Oh, you’re not calm yet, let’s wait and start the clock. You tell me when you’re ready.”

Eventually he did calm down and we did 5 minutes of time out and we joined the party. I missed the entire halftime show, but it could have been SO MUCH WORSE. Typically he ends up basically being grounded until he’s 45 because I feel like if he’s not going to do what I say I have to keep piling stuff on until something works. This was a lot shorter lived and I didn’t have to then contend with remembering the 17 punishments I threatened in the process. We focused on just getting calm and eventually he did.

I have mixed feelings because part of me thinks he was a jerk and got off easy. But most of me feels better about this tantrum cycle than any others. I think I’ll stick with that method again if we hit another tantrum. Calming FIRST, then the punishment. Not escalating the punishment until they’re calm. AND – what the article suggested that gave me the idea in the first place – not leaving him alone with those extreme emotions. At home I basically leave because I’m upset too and we stay separated until something shifts. But this time I stayed with him, trying to be part of the calming instead of making him do it alone. All-in-all, it felt better. And the other day wasn’t working very well so why not?

6 thoughts on “Calming Versus Escalating”

  1. Very good! And interesting, because a version of this is one recommended way deal with adults too. Focus on calming and de-escalating the situation THEN discuss consequences.

  2. THIS! This has become my technique over the years. I find it works very well. Unfortunately, my husband still ESCALATES and things spiral out of control. He thinks I let the kids off too easy but they do respond to me better when lots of emotions are concerned now. They will come to me to discuss the harder stuff which he then feels a bit left out of. Still, I’m sure the balance of the two techniques teaches them they can’t be assholes all the time and get away with it.

  3. I really appreciate that you talk about this stuff. We have some trouble with this with both our boys, and I think this could be really helpful, especially with our younger one.

  4. I don’t have any experience with this, but to me, it sure sounds like a great tactic. It made me feel calmer just reading about it.

  5. I always like to think of the ultimate goal of raising kids when faced with a situation like this. My ultimate goal here would be to raise an adult who could self-soothe and not become victim to his/her own anger, causing issues into their adulthood. With that in mind you have to think which method would they learn something from and be able to employ on their own when grown. The method of calming, with an adult’s help, teaches them how to self-soothe, which is much more needed than knowing how to face increasing consequences while angry.

    TL;DR – You did good Kim. Hard work, but great results.

  6. That technique makes sense to me. The punishment first is only making them angrier whereas calming first helps them get a grip on their emotions first. Nice job.

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