When the meltdowns do happen, I would look like a deer in headlights. What do I do? What do I say? In some cases, I’d just prepare for the worst. In other cases, I’d beg. "Please don’t cry. Please!" It’s pathetic enough to beg, but when you do it to a one-year old, it’s downright sad. Then came my epiphany.
A year ago or so ago, when Iris got really upset about something she couldn’t have to eat, I put my hand on the table and made my fingers into the legs of a makeshift animal and started "crawling" around. I looked at Iris and said "Daddy bug wants to say hi". Suddenly the tears went away and she started cracking up. Suddenly, I realized something. I may have something here.
For months aftewards, I used Daddy Bug as a tool to elicit a smile and calm things down. But sometimes, Daddy Bug just doesn’t make sense. So I would have to accept some of the meltdowns. And at times, I would get upset at her, which would only make her angrier and turn things into a full-blown tantrum. A few months ago, I decided that I wouldn’t do that any more–at least not without an effort to do a few other things first. So when she throws a tantrum (especially if it starts with something that happened with Mommy or Robyn), I’ll walk over to her room and sit on her bed. Then, I will gently ask her to walk over to me. If she doesn’t, I’ll ask again without raising my voice and making sure she hears the word "please". In most cases, as Iris tries to listen, she also starts thinking "why am I crying?" Suddenly, a proposed negotiation seems like a good idea. She always walks over and we calmly discuss why she’s mad. If she’s still crying, I insist on waiting to talk until she’s done. The anticipation of the chat helps expedite the calmness. Then I’ll ask her why she’s mad and talk about alternatives for the next time the situation comes up. Sometimes the lessons stick and in other cases, we’re back to square one a week later. But there’s something about having the rational conversation about the irrational behavior that I am hoping helps later in life. I keep reminding her that everything is open to discussion. If we say no to something and she disagrees, she is allowed to tell us why she thinks we are wrong. But if she kicks and screams, she guarantees that she won’t get what she wants. it’s actually turned her into a bit of a negotiator. Now, when she wants something different that what we say, she say "How about this?" Of course, when says it, it sounds like "Habotdis?" So, when we say "OK, brush your teeth, then a book, and then bed", she’ll respond "Habotdis? First brush teeth. Then two short books. Then bed." I swear to you that she honestly is a better negotiator than some of my classmates at Wharton. I am not kidding. Every time she does it, I want to crack up, but she’s come up with some good deals (by the way, she got the two short book deal).
Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and I’ve expanded beyond Daddy Bug. But that’s a blog for another day. I have to go now. Iris just negotiated some Daddy-Daughter Sesame Street time.