- 2 years ago
I haven’t read all the responses. I just want to add my experience.
In my early 20’s I became a FT nanny to a somewhat-recently-divorced single mom with 2 daughters.
The youngest was 4.5 and threw temper tantrums like the one you describe regularly. The older one was 8 and would stand up, yell in her grandparents faces (2 inches away), stomp around, slam doors, etc.
They had obviously been pretty traumatized by the divorce, and their poor grandparents, who had temporarily moved in to take care of the children (mom was an executive, the dad had been stay-at-home before the divorce) just didn’t know how to discipline them.
They had always been the ones spoiling these children, and now they were expected to come in and be “mean” to them??!?
So this had been going on for MONTHS (possibly close to a year?) by the time I was hired.
For the first month or two, I just sat back and watched the grandma – her tactics, the way she rewarded negative behavior with attention, the way the children spoke to and treated their grandparents, etc.
When it came time for me to take over for the grandmother, I told her that I had methods, and that she probably wouldn’ t like them at first – the girls would be upset initially at the new boundaries and expectations, but that things would get better. Most importantly, I asked her not to intervene or ever disagree with me in front of the girls. A united front is essential. Obviously my situation meant that I needed to be given 100% control. But for your situation, that means that you and you SO need to get on the same page BEFORE these behaviors are displayed so that your approach is the same and there is never a reason to disagree in front of the child.
And then I set about doing the parenting basics. You set boundaries and expectations. You explain them to the children while they are calm, plus the consequences. Then, when they act out, you calmly watch or ignore depending on the situation, and when they are done you have that discussion and they face the consequences previously explained.
The 4.5 year old was highly intelligent – I could tell that from how she actively manipulated her grandmother. So I literally had a gentle conversation one day where I said I KNOW that YOU KNOW how to manipulate your grandma to get what you want. That’s very smart of you. But I want you to know that in order to get what you want from ME, you have to _______ (stay calm, ask politely, etc.)”
I showed her her present behavior and explained point blank how it needed to change in order to get along with ME. Children typically respond really well to having things explained to them. Just having care-givers change and rules and boundaries change without any notice is confusing and frustrating for them.
So whenever I ran up against a new undesirable behavior, I calmly stopped it (or waited for it to end) and then explained the consequences of doing it. I also took the time to ask WHY the child felt the need to act out – what need of theirs wasn’t being met in that moment? What could THEY do differently in the future to help ME meet that need if it arose again?
If a whiny tone was used, I NEVER responded to the content of the sentence. I always stopped the conversation, pointed out the whiny tone, and asked them to repeat the content without the whine. It took some time for the younger girl to get it, but she eventually did. And I’m confident it helped with her social development at school.
The younger one had tantrums because she would become overwhelmingly frustrated if she felt misunderstood or unheard. So I gave her a visual way to think of “frustration” – a huge wall you bash up against over and over the more you try to work THRU your frustration. And I said if you keep bashing up against it, you just get beat up.
But if you step back and walk around calmly, you might find a door you can walk through. In this way, she learned that when she stated to feel frustrated (and I knew to look for the signs), she would let me know, and we would stop with her homework, or the conversation, whathaveyou, and she would go play or watch TV for a few minutes to give her brain a break. And the temper tantrums disappeared just like that.
Likewise, the older girl was told that standing up, screamingm stomping, and slamming doors were all unacceptable behaviors and that they would be punished. After the first few times those actions were consistently punished, they stopped.
Obviously, this is not your child and you do not have the free reign that I had in my situation. But I want to give you hope that not all is lost. Oftentimes, advanced childhood psychology courses and therapy are not necessary at all – as a first step, implementing a basic and consistent program of expectations and boundaries joined with repercussions is all it takes. Stay calm and firm. Let the child know that you are on THEIR side and want to help them get their needs met. Let them know that you hear them and care about them. These basic things can make a world of difference.
Your SO’s child is obviously having a tough time. He’s living in what appears to be a very traumatic environment when he visits his mother, and his father is always tired from work and probably at the end of his rope when he’s home with his child. It’s tough to enact a robust system of expectations and consequences when you’re at the end of your rope.
But this is obviously hard on you, as it should be. It was incredibly difficult for me to stand by in those first few months when the grandparents were positively reinforcing terrible behavior, and even afterward, when the mother did the same (though obviously, that is understandable – what overworked parent wants to come home and be the bad guy??)
In your shoes, I would HAVE to sit the dad down, explain all my misgivings, explain the impact on ME of the child’s behavior. I’d need us to come up with some sort of plan. I’d need to see him step up to the plate and address these growing behavioral issues. It’s great that he wanted to be the full-time parent, and that he works, cooks, etc. But all of that means pretty much nothing if he doesn’t take the time and put forth the effort to address these issues.
That would be where I would start, and coming up with a united plan together would be a condition of me staying in the relationship. I couldn’t stand by and watch a child’s needs go unmet without trying to meet them. And you can’t meet them without your SO signing on.
IF you two are able to come up with a plan, and IF you both are able to stick to it for 6+ months and STILL no progress has been made, that’s when I would start looking into taking some advanced parenting classes or therapy. But I don’t think it’s necessary to start there – and honestly, not everyone has the financial and energy means to start there.