Well, this is new parenting ground for me. While I have thrown many a temper tantrum myself since becoming a mom (as those of you who have read this blog for a while well know), it is only recently that we have entered the realm of Esmé throwing them.
Huzzah! Another developmental milestone reached!
I had a plan about temper tantrums and, really, discipline in general. I am pro firm boundaries with children, believing that generally setting a clear idea of what is and isn’t acceptable in a large sense will give kiddos more freedom ultimately…if only because other people will want to be around them. I do not believe that Esmé’s health or developmental status should make her above the “rules” that might be appropriate for her abilities at any given moment.
My thinking is that if I can trust her to stop rolling toward some kind of impending doom when I say “No, stop!” I can give her more room to explore. She wins by not having me hover. I win by being able to chill out a bit.
So, we’ve been working on discipline…for instance, it is important that she not bite people–so no one needs to worry about being cannibalized by this small person with a frighteningly strong jaw. We nipped this habit in the bud with some firm “No bite!” instructions months ago. More recently I have put up STOP signs at the edge of her “safe to play” zones. [Go ahead and mock me…everyone else does]. She knows that she isn’t supposed to go beyond them, but tests the boundaries regularly…and, until recently, she might whine a bit if I told her “No” when she rolls past them.
But now she throws a temper tantrum.
I actually think temper tantrums in general are hysterical, and sort of part of learning how to deal with disappointment…Who cannot relate to the desire to throw yourself around and scream and yell and kick because someone else ate the last cookie? I totally get it…fine. Yell away, and then you’ll get over it.
So, here’s the thing: Ezzy’s tantrums are silent…because she is not breathing. Ezzy’s tantrum is a full-blown breath-hold, now more often than not followed by her losing consciousness and having a seizure from the lack of oxygen.
There are times that it seems as though the breath-hold may be the symptom rather than the cause of the seizure. But there are also clear times where she is so angry after hearing the word “No” that she becomes enraged and the breath-hold causes the seizure. She’s done this multiple times in the last week, with multiple people, upon being told “No” for the following reasons:
- Don’t hit that window pane hard with a large hard plastic toy
- Don’t chew on the small plastic potential choking hazard that is the end of your feeding tube
- It is time to wear glasses
For now I have been trying to use my “No” strategically–recognizing that there are some battles that can wait a bit longer. I am also trying to use my own language to help her understand that her desires are understood, but may not be acceptable: “I know you want to bang the window with that toy. It makes a nice sound. But the window could break and Ezzy could get hurt…Maman wants Ezzy to be safe. So we can’t do that.”
So far it’s 50/50 on whether that helps at all…In the case of the window she was blue before I finished speaking and the seizure came soon after that. But I do think it helped me avoid a serious crisis with the most interesting light in the world yesterday afternoon.
I like that Esmé is exploring ways to express herself and assert her independence. And it would be expected that her lack of clear expressive communication would make her more likely to throw fits–because it is harder for her to negotiate for what she wants (or possibly needs) in a given situation. I don’t know if it is sort of weird to say that I’m a bit amused to be dealing with a kind of “typical” parenting problem–balancing when you give a child firm boundaries and when you permit the boundaries to flex to fit the child–even if the problem has been Ezzy-fied with the threat of seizures. In fact, I am almost relieved because, to be frank, Ezzy used to only cry from pain. Now, with her improved health, she is engaging in her world in increasingly complex ways. So, her desires are getting increasingly complex–it is no longer enough to just be not ill. She wants to play, explore, and adventure in very particular ways–and so her disappointments are also increasingly complex.
I’m just hoping that soon we might find a way for her to express herself while, you know, breathing.