Kid Upset by Change, Frustrated Mom Tired of Tantrums
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
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THE PROBLEM: My child gets upset when his routine is disrupted. That was okay when he was little, since his dad and I had a lot of control over how his day would go. But now he’s 11, and he still throws a fit every time we have to do something unexpected, like take him to the doctor or make a quick trip to the grocery store. We both work from home, so we’re able to work around him and take turns doing things we need to get done. And yes, we do everything in our power to give him advance notice of activities, but that’s not always possible. Plus, we have no control over his school day. I’m losing patience here!
MARY SAYS: Some people are just like this, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Routine children often grow into disciplined adults: people who show up to work on time; keep the same program operating day in and day out; or work on highly repetitive scientific research throughout a career.
That said, it does sound as though your son’s need for routine may be causing him anxiety right now.
Have you ever talked to him about it? Clearly you and your husband have observed this characteristic in your son, but if he’s not aware of how much suffering his inability to adapt is creating for him—and for you—he’s not likely to change. Assuming you have ruled out a deeper psychological or neurological issue, there are things you can do.
Start by helping him recognize that his emotions are getting the better of him. Inflexibility is a loss of freedom, since external events outside your son’s control are dictating how he feels from one moment to the next. The issue is not just about conflict within the family; your son probably experiences a degree of unease, no matter where he is.
Ask him to imagine what it would feel like to walk through his day unencumbered by what’s happening around him—or to him?
Encourage your son to let go of his own agenda. Welcome surprises, even! Field trip today? No problem! Field trip canceled? No problem! At first, it’s a practice, but over time, he’ll get good at it. After all, despite your son’s predisposition, children are actually quite flexible. NOW is the time for him to learn a new way to interact with his world.
As things start to slide off him, no sweat, he’ll become more curious and follow paths he might not have chosen before. Now that’s freedom. And let him know that whenever he needs to, he can always bring his aptitude for routine back online.
ERIKA SAYS: Accommodating your son’s need for routine is commendable, but constant tantrums are, well, so tiring. It sounds like you’re doing your best to create an environment he can thrive in and he’s still uncomfortable—I can only imagine your frustration! Before I go any further, I think you should know that despite what you think or feel, your son is lucky to have parents working so hard to create a home environment he feels safe in.
Being sensitive to his needs is one thing, but allowing him to dictate your day is another. Your son’s tantrums are ruling your household, which is no way to live. Make it clear you will no longer tolerate his behavior.
Start by working through his tantrums: assure him that change is not always bad, affirm him, and remember to make eye contact. Speak calmly, and if physical touch is your son’s thing, place your hand on his shoulder. Reward him when he diffuses a tantrum on his own and put consequences in place when he refuses to.
And do stop making changes to prevent meltdowns! Working around your son and taking turns getting things done is not doing him any favors. The truth is, when he ventures out on his own, the world and the people in it won’t tiptoe around him the way you do.
Navigating change is a critical life skill, and so is the ability to sustain a routine. Please don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you are unable to help your son achieve a healthy balance on his own.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you!
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ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
Gertrude Warner Book Award
Moonbeam Children's Book Award
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