Being a parent of teenagers, I often find myself remembering fondly the days of toddler tantrums although at the time they were inconvenient and trying to say the least. I was lucky and never had to cope with the mortification of a full blown toddler tantrum in a public place; my children kept such behaviour for the privacy of our own home (or sometimes car). So it was relatively easy to deal with, either by distraction techniques or by exhorting them to stop by the time I counted to three – I never did get to three and never worked out what I would do if I ever did, although there was the time my toddler beat me to it ‘2,3, you all go to bed!’ Instead we deposited him in his cot to scream it out while we beat a hasty retreat before dissolving into gales of laughter.
Oh, for the days of being able to scoop up my cross child, place him in a safe place, and give myself time to take a deep breath before having to deal with things. And oh, how quickly did my purple faced child transform into his usual happy smiling self. There were never any recriminations, every bedtime ended in kisses, cuddles and ‘I love you’s, every morning was a fresh start. Sulking would never last more than a few minutes with the child becoming bored, forgetting they were cross or being distracted by a sibling, a game or a silly song.
How different it is now! My teenagers are physically bigger and much stronger than me; I can’t help but feel at a disadvantage when having to look upwards when telling them off. They seem to have amazing memories when it comes to my misdemeanours and my promises, even though they forget to put their laundry in the linen basket. They will bring up the one occasion when I wrongly blamed them for something another family member did and ignore the millions of times I have supported them. If I’m lucky they will actually tell me what they’re cross about but most likely they’ll just mooch around being uncommunicative and surly and generally making everybody else’s life a misery. It I try to talk calmly that will be held against me and portrayed as a lack of concern. If I disagree with their argument that means I’m not listening to them. If I raise my voice even slightly to be heard above the general hubbub of family life then I’m shouting. Basically, no matter what I do I’m in the wrong.With teenagers the sulking can go on for a long time and can often be accompanied by snide comments either directed at siblings or parents. the worst thing is that they know exactly which buttons to press to exact a feeling of guilt in their parents. This can be hard to shake off and tends to linger at the back of our minds with the result that we become convinced that we have made a total mess of parenting and that our child is beyond hope. It is only when we look at things in the cold light of day or have talked things through with friends that we can accept that it’s not that bad and that our teenager’s behaviour is perfectly normal.
Teenage tantrums are challenging in the extreme although the basic premise is still the same; tantrums are a way of testing the boundaries and teenagers are just the same as toddlers in that deep down they are happier if you can stand firm and stick to your guns. Just as toddlers are negotiating their path into becoming more independent prior to starting school, teenagers too are preparing themselves for the adult world. It’s a good thing that they are ready to question and challenge rather than blindly accepting what they are told. And it’s imperative that they learn to deal with conflict and stress and to develop an appreciation of how their actions impact on other people.
I’m not sure that a teenage tantrum will ever make me laugh in the way that a toddler one could but I can accept that this is a necessary and important phase. It’s exhausting and emotional but really worthwhile when one day they turn round and thank you for being firm but fair. That really has happened with some of my boys, with others it’s still a work in progress. Unfortunately though, I failed to get it in writing so they will probably deny ever having expressed such sentiments.