tantrum [tan-truh m]
A violent demonstration of rage or frustration; a sudden burst of ill temper. A fit of bad temper. Also called hissy fit.
Welcome to the world of tantrums
At the picture window, Ben waves good-bye to Pam and Thomas in the mornings, and then with the same hand makes the sign for "I love you" and then waves, alternating the two over and over. When Pam drives away without giving him the correct number of "I love you" signs, he whines.
He makes a best friend in his first week of preschool, and they play every morning together, running, chasing, swinging and climbing. One afternoon, when I come to pick him up, Ben and his buddy are dancing with scarves to classical music the teacher has put on for them. Their faces are flowers fluttering in a soft breeze.
At home, though, my boy is a stuttering, running, slamming, screaming, stomping, throwing, smashing, trashing, crying, out of control mess.
"No," he shouts. "This way. Stupid door. Stupid curtain. Stupid Cupid." I know he wants to say stupid Mommy, but it's prohibited. So he whispers it. "Stupid Mommy." Then, when I tell him to pick up the books and toys he threw across his room during a time out, he says in a tiger voice, "I'm angry at you."
"It's okay to be angry at me." At this moment I'm calm. Two days ago, I screamed at him in the loudest voice I've ever used with him; my throat hurt for hours afterwards. Now my stomach is tight, my head throbs. "Why are you angry at me?"
"I'm ANGRY at you."
He can never tell us why.
This afternoon he finally took a nap after a week of none. When he woke up, and all the way until dinner time, we had our sweet boy back. Who will come out of that room tomorrow? A growling tiger or my cuddly boy?
At our first parent-teacher conference at the preschool, Pam and I share our concerns over the tantrums and tell his teacher that time-outs seem to calm Ben. "He watches his clock, and knows when three minutes are up," Pam says. We are kind of proud of this.
"Young children can feel abandoned on time-outs," the teacher says. "It might be better to hold him during his upsets."
I leave the meeting feeling like a horrible mother. Like the old refrigerator mothers who supposedly caused autism, which I learned about in graduate school in the early eighties. Or the schizophrenogenic mothers, who caused mental illness in their children by treating them crazily. Now we know that serious disorders like schizophrenia and autism are caused by genetic anomalies, not a mother's (or father's) behavior, but still I wonder what I'm doing to my son to make him like this.
Later, Pam tells me she felt criticized too, but she has already let it go. However I've fallen through a trap door from stable ground into a pit that I can't crawl out of. It feels like I'm looking at the scene in front of me through the wrong end of a telescope. I go to bed earlier each night, eventually turning off my light moments after kissing the boys good-night. I take a day off work and nap on the couch all afternoon.
When he's frustrated, he calls us butthead, stupid, idiot, poo-poo head. He is five and he is furious, throwing his body on the floor, stomach down, head up like a tortoise leaning its long neck skyward. He plugs his ears against our voices, doesn't want us to repeat anything; it's poison to him. He splays his right hand out, palm up and curls his fingers inward, his gesture of extreme frustration.
His cries are sometimes angry wails, but sometimes when he is truly hurt, I can hear the intake of breath between sobs coming from his gut.
"Why don't you just talk about feeling mad?" I say one evening. "You don't need to have a tantrum; you can scribble in your mad book or rip up some scrap paper."
But he is silent, and I know he hates me when I send him on a time-out, five minutes now, solitary confinement in his room. He doesn't say "I hate you" yet, but I know I am frustrating him. I am turning away from him, pushing him away. And it's all crushing my heart.
Causes Kathy Briccetti Supports
Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society
Women's Educational Media