The Happiness Of Stopping My Daughter's Tantrums

05/19/2008 06:19 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

GirlwithcurlThe Little Girl is a charming, ebullient, sweet-natured three-year-old. She also had a habit of throwing MASSIVE tantrums. Kicking, screaming, throwing things, pulling glasses off people's was bad.

It seemed so uncharacteristic of her, I kept thinking she'd outgrow it. She was so happy and friendly. We made excuses: she was overtired, she had a cold, she didn't like rushing around. But the tantrums didn't go away, and it became a real drag. We started calling her "the girl with curl":

There was once a girl

Who had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good, she was very, very good

And when she was bad, she was horrid.

Finally, I admitted I needed to take direct action. Her tantrums were putting a cloud over our family life, plus I realized that I was adjusting my expectations - I was putting up with behavior I would never have tolerated with the Big Girl, because I didn't want to deal with a tantrum. Not good. And on the other hand, there were pleasures I wasn't permitting the Little Girl, because I knew she'd throw a tantrum when we said "Not now" or "It's time to stop." We never let her watch any TV, for example, even though I would otherwise have been happy to let her watch a Sesame Street episode or part of a Wiggles DVD, because of the certainty of the tantrums that would follow when the TV was switched off.

There's a Buddhist saying that I've found to be uncannily accurate: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." My teacher appeared in the form of Beth Lisick, when I read her book, Helping Me Help Myself.

One of the gurus she followed was Thomas Phelan, author of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. Beth Lisick explained all the reasons she resisted following the simple program in the book (it boils down to counting calmly "1, 2, 3" and if your kid is still misbehaving, enforcing a short time-out, with no emotion and no talking) but in desperation, she tried it, and it worked. Like magic.

Okay. If it worked for Beth and her son, maybe it would work for us. I bought the book. I tried it. And you know what? It worked. Like magic. It didn't completely stop the tantrums - the Little Girl still throws it down, from time to time, but less often, and for a much shorter amount of time, and we know how to react when she does.

A big comfort as a parent, I've discovered, is having a strategy. I need a theory of how to behave. This book gave me a tool to use when I didn't know what to say or how to react. Even if it doesn't always work, I know that I'm being consistent and reasonable. That feels a lot better than just flailing around, saying and doing whatever comes into my head at a difficult moment.

A lot of people would say, "I'd never use 1-2-3 Magic! I don't like time-outs. That's not the kind of parent I am." I would have said exactly the same thing, as the mother of the Big Girl. But the Little Girl is different, and for us now, 1-2-3 Magic has been very helpful.

So, if you've got a tantrum-y kid, I would recommend giving it a try. Has anyone else had good, or bad, experience with it?