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Jan. 4th, 2014

Lately we've been talking about maybe keeping a tantrum log, as Sophie is having some pretty difficult episodes almost daily. I had meanwhile been thinking it would be a good idea to get back to frequent posting, just so that we have a record of what life is like kind of like in the early days, and so that we're not just dwelling on the worst of life (i.e. the tantrums). So the posting frequency here is about to ratchet up, but my purpose is more to record than to entertain so don't expect any great works of literature or witty blogging that will someday be given some inspirational or ironic title, OK?
Sophie has always been a fairly intense and strong-willed child. She isn't rigid, or fearful of change, or anything of the sort. But when she gets an idea in her head about how something should or should not be, or something she thinks she should be able to do (in either sense of 'capable' or 'permitted'), she can go completely berserk if reality does not live up to her ideas.

When she was 16 months or so, I said:
At any rate, the tantrums are annoying sometimes but they don't really bother me (yet). Nevertheless it is one of those great unknowables: how soon will she adjust to not always being allowed to do what she wants? Will it become better or worse when she can use words to communicate? If this is what she's like at 16 months, will she be an unholy terror at 30 months or will she have adjusted to constraints? And will anything we do now make one whit of difference?

We're at 37 months now, and it's a bit of both. She will abide by rules if they're established and consistently enforced; for us to establish a rule requires a royal battle (sooner or later) and to enforce it requires constant vigilance against her periodic testing, and sometimes a small skirmish. This in itself is exhausting - I know that parenting advice says, foremost, "Be consistent!" but she really goes to an extreme of punishing any whiff of inconsistency or indulgence ever displayed by her human and fallible parents. Maybe it does take a robot to raise a child.

Not every conflict triggers a meltdown - if she is in a good enough mood, she will accept a 'no' with an exaggerated 'O-kaaaaayyyy' and get on with life. But when she does let loose, holy hell. The screaming goes on for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour; she hits, kicks, scratches, bites, pulls hair, rips our glasses off our faces and hurls them to the ground, anything she can think of to try and upset us as much as she has been upset. The reactions we get from onlookers tend to confirm our impression that this isn't normal behavior, although if they try to intercede at all it is usually in sympathy rather than in condemnation. Her grandparents have worried that someone might call the police; her childminder has claimed never to have seen anything like it.

Fortunately (I guess), these tantrums are special events reserved exclusively for the presence of a parent. She'll have them in public, and she'll get upset when she's being looked-after by non-parents, but as far as I know she has never subjected a non-parent to this kind of rage fit. Unfortunately, as she gets older and bigger and stronger it gets harder to contain her and harder to calm her down, and the attempts to do so cause more of a spectacle when we're out and about. I'm going to have to take up strength training if I want to be able to keep manhandling her away from doing anything dangerous or attacking me, and the tactics that we've used in the past to distract her tantrums or control their progress worked as well as any tactic ever does with Sophie - brilliantly the first couple of times, more or less well for a few days, and then never again.

It has to be said that she's been through an awful lot of change in the last few months. She isn't really change-averse, as I said, and we've been trying to do our best to reassure her about the changes that have happened. In November we moved house; for the next month we commuted all the way across town to get her to her old nursery, but in December she started at a Montessori school nearby. She also needed some arrangement for afternoon care, and the first one fell through which left us scrambling for a backup plan. This all worked out, and the great irony is that she ended up spending rather more time with Mummy and Daddy than she normally would have, but it wasn't exactly stable. And now it's been two weeks since she was at school, thanks to Christmas, and I'm pretty sure (I think) that she misses it. If the tantrums we've seen lately hadn't already been part of a clear and established pattern, it would be easy to point the finger at all this change.

But the thing is, they are part of a clear and established pattern, and historically she has not been a rigid and change-averse child who suffers terribly from any disruption to the all-hallowed Routine. And so I can't rest comfortably on the idea that "as soon as everything settles down" she'll be a tantrum-free golden child, and I would be wasting my time if I were to go making myself obsessively crazy about providing No Further Disruptions.

A few times lately, she's shown signs of trying to learn to control her temper. A small contretemps with a younger playmate on New Year's Eve caused her to go into a forceful monologue about how "We need to sulk!" and a stream-of-consciousness concerning the "why". Once she had repeated this cycle and so captivated the room for 20 minutes or so, she was fine.

Another tantrum at home over Christmas, during which she was confined to her room until the rage subsided, ended when she worked out how to use a chair to reach the drawer where her dummies (normally only allowed at sleeping times) are stored. So the wailing ceased and, when we walked in, we found a sad/defiant/triumphant face standing with her hand in the dummy drawer and a dummy in her mouth. Given that she now had the ability to retrieve a dummy whenever she liked, I made a rule that they weren't to come out of her bedroom. For a few days this seemed to work to put a lid on the tantrums, in that when she got upset she would retrieve a couple of dummies, and calm herself or meditate, and then eventually announce "I'm finished crying!" and put them away again.

But Sophie, being Sophie and taking a mile whenever an inch is given, began to want the dummies all the time. Which meant that she wanted to have me playing with her in her room all the time, making it as companionable as the rest of the house tends to be, and she was getting increasingly irritable at not being able to do things like watch TV or go out while simultaneously being in her room with the dummies. So this possible route to self-soothing has also turned into a dead end, and we've had to move to hiding the dummies outright when she isn't sleeping. This in itself has led to dreadful tantrums for each of the past two days.

So that's where we are. I guess we will soon see where we go.

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