Tag Archives: discipline

Tantrum Analysis

This morning everything was bright and breezy.  My headache had gone and Boy the Younger was sweetness and light.  As I was lying in the bath last night, I was racking my brains trying to think what might have triggered the outburst.  But first, I must go back to give you the details of what happened.

The Wartime Household is a busy place at the moment.  As I mentioned last week, I am tutoring Boy the Elder four nights a week with one night with his tutor.  I am also helping Boy the Younger with his handwriting because, despite being top of his class in virtually everything, his writing is almost illegible.  I only ask for four lines of four different letters each day, I have explained why he needs to do it and he either does it with alacrity in about 10 minutes, or World War 3 breaks out.

Boy the Younger has always has always been a man of two settings i.e. Angel or Bastard.  From birth he was 80% Bastard until I got him to the Cranial Osteopath  and, as time has progressed, he now averages out at 80% Angel, 10% Bastard and 10% deciding which way to jump. 

Boy the Elder was an easier person.  He had his moments but, by and large, I’d give him a bollocking, he took it on the chin and we moved on and certainly this is the case now.  On the rare occasions when he got a smacked bottom it did the trick and lessons were learned.  On the whole, he accepted my authority and rarely pushed the boundaries to extremes.

Boy the Younger questions absolutely everything.  If he perceives that he’s heading for trouble, he will push and push and push until my ears are bleeding.  Then, and only then, will he back down.  Consequently, I have had to evolve a completely different style of management to that which I used for BTE.  

When their father and I separated, the boys’ reactions were very different; BTE had some counselling with Relate which he found very helpful and BTY started knocking eight bells out of his little colleagues at playgroup.  We worked through this by using a programme of incentives, star charts, rewards and a lot of talking, reassurance and cuddling. 

When he started big school, the negative behaviour started again, except that this time, he was having massive tantrums at home.  These tantrums involved various combinations of screaming, throwing things, attacking and biting me and BTE, throwing himself on the ground, slamming doors, refusing to eat, accusing me of hating him and so on.  He would threaten to run away and would describe how he was going to walk into the road when he saw a car coming and get himself run over and then I’d be sorry and would miss him and regret having treated him so badly. Another time, he said he was going to jump out of a window and die of blood loss from the broken glass before anyone had time to mend his broken legs.  And this from a five year old boy.

On the occasion when one tantrum lasted for four hours, two of which were spent sitting on the stairs, physically restraining him whilst determinedly not talking to him, looking at him or colluding with the behaviour in any way, I realised that this was more than just bad behaviour.

Now I am a strict parent, but I also talk to my children and give them reasons why they have been asked or told to do something.  We talk about our feelings, I tell them I love them, I am quick to praise them when they’ve done something good and I don’t hold back when they’ve done something wrong.  I lose my temper sometimes when I shouldn’t and I say the wrong things because I’m knackered and human.  I just couldn’t work out what was causing these outrageous outbursts from BTY and it was having a terrible effect on the whole dynamic of the family.

So I started to keep a record of everything he did, every day.  What time he got up, how much sleep he’d had, what he had eaten and at what time, flashpoints with BTE, behaviour at school, how much fresh air and exercise he’d had and what my behaviour had been like.  It emerged very quickly that there was a pattern to the bad behaviour and that virtually all the outbursts happened within 30-45 minutes of coming home from school and that the trouble at school was predominantly associated with one particular boy at about the same time every day.

The Father of My Children gets extremely bad tempered if he goes too long without food, so I started to chart the interval between when BTY had a meal and the onset of an outburst.  The correlation was immediately obvious, particularly in the afternoons when having had lunch at 12.00, there was a gap until he arrived home at 3.30 or later if we had had to go to the shops.

I asked his teacher to give him a banana at break time, and as soon as he got into the car, I would give him a cereal bar, a biscuit, a bag of raisins or something to boost his energy levels, so that by the time he got home, his blood sugar was up a bit.  The transformation at home was miraculous and  his behaviour  improved ten-fold.  I believe him to be susceptible to hypoglycaemia which is effectively low blood sugar but not being actually diabetic.  The school bit was more complicated as it involved several uncomfortable meetings with his teacher and the other boy’s mother.  I won’t bore you with that bit, but it has been resolved and at the end of last term, BTY was given an award for ‘Improved Social Skills’ – i.e., he has stopped thumping people.

The tantrum yesterday was pretty much my fault because, as his behaviour has been so much better for so long, and I have been so frantic and busy, I completely forgot about the need to give a snack.  I settled BTE down to do an essay and gave BTY his writing to do.  The bribe for completion was two chocolate chip biscuits.  Thinking it would only take him ten minutes or less, I didn’t give him a snack first.  Big mistake.  He would not write the letters properly and because I wouldn’t accept them, the tantrum kicked off almost immediately and I couldn’t then reward the bad behaviour with the biscuits which he actually needed. 

He swore at me, threw things, slammed the bathroom door so hard and repeatedly that he broke the mirror that is screwed to it.  Stalemate.  I told him to go and sit quietly in his room until he felt able to try again. Every time he came down, once hugging me and saying he was sorry, I quietly repeated that the letters needed to be done, that I knew he could do them beautifully and quickly, and all would be well.  I really tried to give him an opportunity to resolve it without feeling as though he had totally backed down. After several scribbled pieces of paper were thrown at me, he kicked the kitten across the room and attempted to storm out.  At that point he got a smacked bottom and I shouted at him as I carried him, kicking and screaming, to his room and told him to stay there until he could behave like a human being.  It was horrible and I was nearly crying myself.

After about ten minutes, he came down, quietly took the paper and pencil into the other room and wrote two perfect lines of letters.  Two biscuits were handed over, much praise was given for the neatness of his letters and we hugged and made up.  Today, he was given a  snack as soon as he got through the door and a two fruit pastilles were placed at the side of each line of letters.  He did the first two lines, got the pastilles, refused to do any more and the pastilles were removed,  When we got back from the tutor, the two remaining lines were done without prompting and pastilles were handed over.

I don’t know whether this is the right approach, but experience tells me that children need boundaries and they need to know who’s in charge because it makes them feel safe and loved.  If they don’t learn acceptable behaviour now they will become monsters.  I don’t believe that one should negotiate with children.  Listen to them, talk about behaviour and its consequences, allow them to make age-appropriate choices by all means, but ultimately the parents must be in charge.  It is not fair to ask children to make too many choices because they don’t have the life experience to do it, and if we as grown-ups don’t know better than them in most situations, then there is definitely something wrong. We should try to lead by example and teach them obedience and respect by demonstrating it to them and the people we meet.

I have learned that different personalities need to be handled in different ways and that children within the family need to be treated as individuals.  I have found this process very difficult and I’m still working on it.  I’m bound to bugger it up one way or another because everyone does because we’re human and fallible.  But I’m trying…

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Children should eat what the rest of the family eats

I was in the supermarket buying sausages yesterday and I was perplexed to see that Jamie Oliver has brought out special sausages for children.  Since when have children had a problem with sausages?  I’m not a huge fan of Mr Oliver at the best of times, but I do appreciate what he was trying to do regarding school meals.  If schools provide lunches then they must achieve decent nutritional standards.  Jolly good, well done, carry on.

My problem with his children’s sausages is, yet again, one of training and good habits.

We should not give children special children’s food.
We should not be running in-house cafeterias.
Children must learn to eat what is put in front of them
Children must learn to appreciate the effort that goes into producing good food.

I am not a complete fascist and I recognise that children have less sophisticated tastes than adults and that there are some things that individuals simply don’t like.  What I absolutely can’t bear is when children (and some adults) will claim not to like something they have never tried.  I will accept that someone doesn’t like something if they’ve at least had a good run at it.  If they eat most things, there is a reasonable chance that they genuinely don’t like something and that’s fair enough.

Fussy children turn into fussy adults and there are few things more frustrating, particularly to keen cooks, to be presented with a grown-up who doesn’t like this and doesn’t like that.  It should have been trained out of them when they were children and it makes them unwelcome dinner guests.

A lot of this goes back to table manners again.  If families sit together round the meal table, all eating the same thing, enjoying good food and conversation, and let’s not forget good manners, those habits will stick.  It probably means that when your children are young, you may have to hold back on the really spicy food a bit or not give them Stilton and oysters at every meal, but surely this is not an excuse to start running a cafe where different family members are eating different food. 

I have sat at tables where three different meals are served to accommodate fussy children.  I’m sorry, but this is parental weakness, a ridiculous use of the cook’s valuable time and is utterly uneconomical.

Ideally, one ought to start from the word go, as soon as your children start eating solids.  Make food that they are likely to eat when they’re older, but without the spices and salt.  Mash it down, but leave some texture in it so they get used to having to chew or at least gnash a bit.  I made all my own baby food in big batches and froze it in clearly labelled portions.  I made soups, Shepherd’s Pie, cauliflower cheese, baked squash, fish cakes, fish pie, liver and onions, fruit crumbles, rice pudding  and so on – you get the drift.  Also, I found some great recipe ideas in Annabel Karmel’s super book on feeding babies and toddlers and I even adapted some of her recipes for all of us to enjoy.

If your children are still relatively young, it’s not too late to start clamping down.  I have Boy the Elder who would wolf down oysters and mussels when he was 7, and Boy the Younger who would live on nothing but Sunday roasts given half the chance, and deep down suspects me of trying to poison him.  I blame the latter scenario entirely on my own lack of discipline because at the time when I should have been strict I was going through a very difficult ‘life event’ and I let things slip.  However, I have since toughened up and we are making progress.

Food is put in front of them and they are expected to eat it.  I give them age appropriate portions and they don’t get pudding until a valiant effort has been made.  If they sit in front of it for over half an hour without eating, it is quietly taken away.  If I know they are being deliberately arsey, it sometimes comes out again at the next meal. The same rules apply to their friends who come for tea.  No alternatives are offered.

But don’t let mealtimes become a battlefield.  There are plenty of ways that children can exercise choice in their lives and it’s up to you to find choices within (your) acceptable parameters that make them feel independent.  Food is not one of these choices.  Fussy children become fussy adults.  Fussy adults are a pain in the arse.  I also believe that people who don’t eat well are often limited in other aspects of their lives and are unwilling to embrace new things in general.  Just a thought.

So Jamie Oliver can keep his poxy sausages and Bernard Bloody Matthews can definitely keep his twizzlers and dinosaurs or whatever other life limiting crap they turn out.  Ditto children’s pizzas, cereals and anything that’s spelled ‘Kidz’.  And while I’m at it, a note about cereals.  If the name has ‘chocolate’, ‘cocoa’ or ‘sugar’ in the title, it’s pudding.  Not breakfast, pudding.

For what we are about to receive…

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Food, Nutrition & Sensible Eating

Back to School at Last

Instruments of Torture

Instruments of Torture

In which the Wartime Housewife discusses school transport, buying uniform and school holidays.

This week  The Boys are returning to school after what seems like several years. 

Don’t misunderstand me – I love the holidays.  I like spending more time with my children, taking them on outings, occasionally slumping in front of the television with slightly too much chocolate, having the odd lie-in. 

But with this goes the constant fighting, the endless cooking, the midden that is their bedroom and the painty, cardboardy, gluey detritus left in the wake of two lively boys who can make spaceships out of absolutely anything they can lay their hands on.  And I mean anything.  I confess that I am a little Run Down.

On the other hand, I’m feeling quite smug, because I obtained all the new uniform for Boy the Elder’s new school at the beginning of the holidays and had it all labelled and ready by the end of the first week.  I feel less smug about the shocking realization that uniform, PE kit, new equipment, school bag, trainers, football boots, shoes and stationery have come to the grand total of £180, despite having obtained as much as possible second hand or in the sales.  How do people manage?  I know that friends of mine with children at private schools pay up to £800, but I don’t know how they manage either and at least they have chosen that path.

As mentioned above, Boy the Elder is starting at a new school this week.
We are not in catchment. 

This means that the school bus will cost £550 a year, even though it is never full and we only live 1 mile out of the catchment area.  ‘Never mind’, thought I, naively, ‘he can get the public bus which goes from nearly outside my house to nearly outside the school’.  Except that the bus company has very kindly removed the bus from the timetable which would have got him, and presumably other children,  to school on time.  ‘No problem, he can get an earlier bus, and then connect with the next one, which will get him there on time’.  But the two buses are run by separate bus companies and Leicester City Council does not have a co-ordinated transport policy, so no bus pass.

The upshot is that I’m going to have to drive him into town (in the opposite direction) to put him on the bus, or drive him to school every day which, because of traffic, will mean having to leave earlier than we normally get up and then Boy the Younger and I will be sitting twiddling our thumbs for half an hour because there’s not quite enough time to go home and then get to his school. 

Now you may ask why my son is not going to the catchment school.  Because it’s shit and I’ll push him to the other school in a wheelbarrow if I have to.  It is the responsibility of every parent to try to get their child into the best school they can, and sadly this is not always possible. 

I have every sympathy with parents who go as far as to move house to make sure that their children are educated in an environment that is condusive to learning, where discipline, respect and support, for both teachers and pupils, is a minimum expectation.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Family and Friends