We were on a beach holiday and the mid day sun was just too much for the fair skinned Anglo Saxons amongst us.
My partner and our younger son returned from a shopping trip with a few treats that they had picked out for the family as we had planned a ‘picnic’ together on the floor of our hotel room. I had made some preparations and we sat down around a makeshift picnic blanket (3 beach towels) nestled between the beds, which I had rolled out of the way.
We settled and our son immediately opened a family size packet of crisps and started eating them, after a few minutes in a light hearted way I leaned across and took the crisps from his hands, making a joke about the packet being almost as big as him and how I needed to feed my big, fat tummy.
At which point he got immediately angry, we could see that unprovoked his anger was increasing and rapidly turning into a tantrum. This came as a total surprise as he had been in a good mood and this abrupt change seemed to come from nowhere and it was clearly building into something really quite extreme.
Before long he was screaming and ‘wailing’ that he wanted the crisps, that he wasn’t finished, that now we were all eating them and would leave none for him. We were firmly pointing out that they were not his and that he knew the ‘picnic’ was for everyone to share, we insisted that of course we could eat them and that he had to calm down.
He didn’t. His ranting continued and was getting quite hysterical, we were at a bit of a loss as we started to realise that any attempt at calming him was failing hopelessly.
We tried a firm approach telling him he was being selfish and that we all had to share and that this behaviour had to stop – which of course just made it worse.
We tried a softer approach and put down the crisps and told him that he could have more when he was calm and had apologised for his unacceptable behaviour, but this achieved nothing either.
He stormed from the room and continued his screaming from behind the bathroom door. I was calm and attempted to open the door telling him that I just wanted to hug him and calm him down. He screamed that nobody was to come in and nobody was to talk to him.
We sat down and fell silent, not so much giving in to him as respecting the ‘limits’ we thought he was clearly laying out. We figured if this is what it needed to bring it to an end then so be it, once calm we hoped we could get him to listen to us and recognise that his behaviour was unacceptable.
However when he came back into the room he was immediately upset that we were not talking to him and started screaming that we were being horrible and ignoring him. When we started to respond NOTHING we said was the right thing and just resulted in more wailing and crying and with him putting his fingers in his ears saying he didn’t want to listen.
We have got used to his anger and his tantrums over the past 2 1/2 years and we have discovered ways of getting through, so much so we thought we were ‘on top’ of them, but somehow in this case nothing was working and we were back to being truly mystified.
And than the penny dropped – for my partner anyway. He looked at me and said ‘this is about food, you snatched it away from him’. Suddenly some sense in a totally chaotic and illogical scene.
As I explained in the previously blog, in the birth family there was frequently a shortage of food and being the youngest he often missed out to his older siblings when food was placed in front of them and immediately snatched up before he got any.
I didn’t have to stop and consider what my partner had said, I immediately knew it to be true. This was clearly the trigger, in this case and what was more difficult to accept was that it had probably been so in a number of other similar situations previously that we had failed to see and would have simply treated his behaviour as naughtiness.
Knowing the cause didn’t stop the tantrum, but it did give us the confidence to deal with it. Our son had retreated back into the bathroom so my partner went to him saying ‘I know what’s wrong and I understand’ over and over, he continued with ‘daddy did a silly thing, he should not have snatched the food from you, he is sorry that he did that and knows it was wrong and he wants to apologise to you’. Gradually our son allowed himself to be embraced and finally stopped shouting and just sat sobbing.
I stood behind the door listening, my partner said that he knows that when he was little his brothers and sisters snatched his food away and left him hungry, but that in our family he is never hungry and he will never be hungry again. Our son’s response was – in between sobs – to agree that was why he was so upset, it was not just a simple ‘yes’ in agreement, it was truly heartfelt and said with a passion and I like to think a sense of relief at the fact that we – and maybe even he – had finally ‘got it’.
To anybody who thinks that he was just playing us to get his own way, rest assured that is not the case. We know ‘those’ tantrums and as I said we feel we are getting better at dealing with those before they get out of control, we are quite firm in our parenting and the boys know there is only so far they can go before we clamp down hard on any bad behaviour. We knew this was different and we could see that our regular way of dealing with him was only making it worse.
This was absolutely not about him eating all the crisps, which was evident once he calmed down and had the crisp packet again as he willingly shared them around between us without even needing to be asked.
He made sure I was held to my apology as promised by my partner and when I did say sorry it was for SO much more than snatching the crisps from his hand.
So another penny dropped. At the time I was angry for us not realising immediately, now writing it down I am even more so as it all just seems SO blindingly obvious, but in the moment that is just not the case.
Our boys are far from perfect and they do misbehave, they do push their luck and they do try to play us to get their own way and yes that includes throwing the odd tantrum, I think working out which tantrum is simply bad behaviour and which has been triggered by something haunting them from their past is one of the most difficult challenges we have to face as adoptive parents.
To see the original blog A banana, 3 clementines, a bowl of grapes and 4 kiwis please follow this link. http://wp.me/p44UZE-ki