Don’t Give Up

How to deal with temper tantrums and get the results you want.

Sonia Billadeau April 14, 2014
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RAD kids live to wear you down. They think they’re going to succeed, and often they do. Who can stand up to the abuse 24/7 for years on end? You can. Pick one or two things at a time and focus like a laser. Bring all you have to bear on those behaviors. And then never give up, no matter how hard they test you and try you.

My ten-year-old son has not played with friends in over two months. In order to play with friends, he must contain his temper tantrums so that he screams into his “angry pillow” only (not our ears) and stomps the floor or hits the pillow on the bed. If he contains his temper tantrum within those boundaries, he is not in trouble. Also, he must demonstrate obedience. Not perfect obedience, obviously, since he’s ten. But at least an 80% average. Every time we ask him to do something, his response receives a grade. I snap my fingers and say, “Obedience: A” or “Obedience: F.” (Obedience is like pregnancy. You can’t be a little pregnant. You can’t be a little obedient. You either are or you aren’t.)

Playtime is his currency. We know it, we use it to motivate him, but it hasn’t worked. It’s almost shocking how much it hasn’t worked. We’ve had calls to the police, four-hour temper tantrums, property damage, essays, bathroom time, upset phone calls from the teacher, and lots of peanut butter. Per the therapist, who says it’s more fun for him to be naughty than good right now, we surprise our son with little chocolates when he does something especially obedient, or controls a temper tantrum especially quickly. We’re trying to train him that being good is more fun than being naughty.

For two months, he has progressed painfully slowly to the point (last night) of being poised on the brink of playtime with a friend today. He has been at 80% or above (as measured by Mom) on his obedience, and he has, as of this writing, had no temper tantrums for 132 hours, 35 minutes, and 03 seconds (as measured by Mom’s IPhone).

When I tucked him into bed last night, I used all the same techniques I’ve practiced for almost a year now, as in, “Hey, I think it would be awesome if you got out of bed after I leave so that you lose the privilege of playing tomorrow.” He called after me, “Not gonna happen, Mom, not gonna happen.”

I gave him fifteen minutes, then went back and checked. Where was he? Lying under the Foosball table in the loft with his collection of rocks and without any pajamas. True to my training, I enthusiastically cried, “Awesome! You chose to lose the privilege of playing tomorrow.” Then he tried everything in his bag of tricks, such as, “I was scared,” “You didn’t say I couldn’t go in the loft,” and, “Can I earn it back?”

It took everything I had to say, “No, no, and no, but nice try. You’ve lost the privilege of playing tomorrow so now you’ll have to earn it for the next day.” I thought he was going to blow a gasket because he had come so close to playing and then lost it. At the same time, I was thinking, “This has to be a test. No kid who really wants to play tomorrow is going to get out of bed for anything. So I concluded what he really wanted was to see if I was serious, if he really had to follow the rules. When he realized playtime was really gone, no givsies backsies, he started to snort like a bull. Smoke came out of his ears, and I braced for him to blow the house down.

Then I pulled out my IPhone. I showed him the hundred plus hours he had gone without a temper tantrum and asked him if he was ready for me to stop the timer. He buried his face in his “angry pillow” and finished his temper tantrum in fewer than five minutes. I have to say I was impressed; so impressed that I went back in after a while and told him how impressed I was that he had gotten control of himself so quickly. I said, “I bet that was really hard to do,” and he nodded. I said, “I’m really sad that you chose not to play tomorrow, but I’m really proud of you for your self-control so I’m putting a piece of candy in your lunch tomorrow.” I told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me.

I waited for another fit this morning when he remembered no playtime today, but it didn’t happen. I waited for him to be yucky when he got home from school or to simply defy us and stay after school to play with friends, but it didn’t happen. He came home from school, did his reading and keyboarding, and had a presence about him that was almost striking in its maturity and calm. I don’t think I’ve ever felt him so connected to me as when we talked about his day today. He never even brought up the subject of playing with friends.

I’ve been to the rodeo often enough that I have no illusions that he is suddenly Prince Charming. But I also know my kids well enough, and can feel their spirits well enough, to know when they’ve gone up a level. And he has. All because I didn’t give up. It would have been so much easier to make an excuse for him being out of bed, or to pretend to believe him when he said that he was scared. After all, I want him to be rewarded for his good behavior so he keeps it up. But I stayed the course and followed through on flagrant disobedience equaling no playtime. I’m as shocked as anyone that he took it so well. I think this not giving up might actually be working.

Photo credit: ichasudirman.blogspot.com: The Pesketologist: Just Don’t Give Up

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Sonia Billadeau


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