I was warming up milk and pouring oatmeal cereal as fast as I could while my 15-month old daughter Amaani was crying and kicking in the high chair.
She now knows how to throw a temper tantrum. And it’s become a way for her to communicate to us when she’s not getting what she wants or, in this case, not getting what she wants fast enough.
Everyone around me tells me this is normal. This is the age when children test their limits. They also get frustrated because they still can’t communicate well. Amaani’s preschool teacher uses this example- imagine if you had masking tape over your mouth and you wanted to say something but you couldn’t. It would be frustrating.
While that is assuring, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more I could do as a parent. And as I brought her breakfast to the high chair something registered in me.
Amaani was throwing a tantrum because she didn’t have patience. And probably doesn’t understand the concept of patience. I realized it wasn’t even something I had tried to teach her.
When she wakes up in the morning saying “Mama,” I race over to pick her up from the crib. When I put her in the high chair, I either have her food ready to go or I’m racing to present it to her as fast as I can. When she sits in my lap, I drop everything I’m doing to read to her. I made her used to getting everything instantly.
She doesn’t throw the tantrums with teachers because she knows in the classroom she has to wait her turn. But, as our first and only child, this wasn’t something she’s ever had to do at home.
So, the next morning when she woke up, I stopped myself from running into her room to pick her up. It was hard because she kept saying “mama” and my natural inclination is to run to her. I let 10 minutes pass before I went in. My hope is that she learns to play with her stuffed animals or entertain herself. And in the process of soothing herself, entertaining herself, I’m hoping she learns the art of waiting which we call “patience.”
The second day was even more encouraging. I waited 22 minutes before going in. She said “mama,” “dada,” and “hi” for the first few minutes and then sat in her crib. Not a single tantrum that morning. She even waited patiently as I prepared her breakfast.
As a parent, I find it so hard when I have to watch my daughter in an uncomfortable situation that I know I can easily take her out of. But if she didn’t fall, she wouldn’t learn to walk. If I didn’t take her bottle away, she wouldn’t be drinking from her sippy cup. If we didn’t let her cry to sleep train her, she might still be waking up every two hours wanting to be held and rocked.
None of the decisions are easy. And there’s no set guideline or rule that fits every child.
Do I think the tantrums are over? No. Do I expect they will be less? Maybe not. But I feel that if I let her “wait” sometimes…she’ll learn that instead of crying and kicking, she can play or sing a song instead. And if I can somehow help teach her patience, I will be teaching her a beautiful virtue that will come in handy for the rest of her life.