My 4-year-old daughter has always been an expert at throwing temper tantrums. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, while sometimes it's simply because I'm trying to get her to do something she thinks is unreasonable (like go to bed). Yes, my strong-willed daughter has put me through the ringer on many occasions, and it seems like I've tried just about everything to either avoid tantrums altogether or end them as quickly as possible. And finally, after years, I think I may have found the only tried and true way to stop her screaming.
A few months ago, my daughter decided to throw herself onto the carpet before bedtime. I'm not quite sure what set her off. I either put the toothpaste onto her toothbrush when she likes to do it herself (the audacity!) or tried to help her get her pajamas on when her arm got stuck (the nerve!). Tears dripped down her cheeks and the yelling erupted, bouncing off the walls in her bedroom. "Let me dooooo it!" she screamed at me. I tried to get her to calm down. But talking quietly to her did not work.
"Maria," I said. "I understand you're upset, but it is time to take some deep breaths and finish getting ready for bed."
"Nooooo!" she screamed in my face. Then the kicking started.
I glanced around the room looking for something to distract her. I saw her large stack of books next to her bed, and it clicked. I took a couple of books with me as I climbed onto her fluffy turquoise bed and began reading to her in a calm, low voice from a collection of Frog and Toad stories. For the first couple of pages, she wasn't even aware of what I was doing. But then, her head shot up and she looked up at me. She suddenly stopped pounding her fists and kicking on the carpet. But instead of acknowledging her in that moment, I simply continued reading.
Slowly, she dried her own tears, and on her own, took a few deep breaths. She crept onto the bed with me. I acknowledged her with a smile and continued to read in my same calm voice. She inched closer and gazed at the pictures of Frog and Toad. After I finished the first story, I went on to the next one. I didn't want to skip a beat. My daughter placed her hand on my thigh as we sat crisscrossed, side by side.
After I read the entire collection of stories, I closed the book and looked into my daughter's eyes. She smiled a guilty kind of smile. "I'm sorry, Mommy," she said.
"It's okay," I said back to her. The rest of the nightly routine went smoothly and I kissed her on her cheek before shutting off her lights. From that evening on, when my strong-willed daughter tries to break out into full-blown tantrum mode, I grab a book and start reading. It's helped even during the before-school rush in the morning. It doesn't take long to change the mood of the entire house.
This trick hasn't failed me yet. It's something about the rhythm of words strung together that calms the both of us. I think it also helps that the words aren't coming from her Mommy, either. While I can't say that this book-reading trick is foolproof, the one thing I know is that it has certainly helped. At the very least, the tantrums don't last quite as long.