Q: My 4-year-old stepson still has the occasional tantrum in response to being told that he cant have or do something. His mother, who has primary custody (hes with us two days a week, generally), is very permissive, so he comes by this honestly. When he throws a tantrum, we put him in his tantrum place, which is a chair in the dining room. That causes his tantrum to get worse, actually, and it sometimes takes him 30 minutes or more to calm himself down to where he can get out of the chair. Is there anything we can do to help him get control of himself or should we just ignore it and carry on? Four years old is too old for tantrums, correct?
You are absolutely correct, but youre living in the past (but then, so am I). Up until fairly recently, a child who was still throwing tantrums after his or her third birthday was rare. It has only been within the last two generations that behaviors characteristic of (and once successfully confined to) the so-called terrible twos tantrums, belligerent defiance, persistent impulsivity, separation anxiety have continued to occur past toddlerhood, oftentimes well past. I am convinced that this is the result of sea changes in childrearing practice that have taken place during that time.
Specifically, instead of removing children from the center of parental attention between their second and third birthdays, the overwhelming majority of todays parents are keeping their kids at the center of attention in perpetuity. Those parents also tend to engage in a tremendous amount of enabling simply stated, doing for children what they are capable of doing for themselves, however imperfectly. The inevitable result is that large numbers of perpetually dependent children dont cope well with the realities of life, including the Mick Jagger Principle: You cant always get what you want.
This is an unhealthy state of affairs for those children, who we now know are having a great many problems growing up and accepting full responsibility for themselves. Consequently, this is an unhealthy state of affairs for America. Im not alone in thinking that Americas childrearing problems are as serious as its current economic difficulties, every bit as threatening to our continued viability.
Your stepson is a victim, in effect. But his mothers not evil far from it. Shes a victim too, of the tremendous peer pressure on todays moms to enter into co-dependent relationships with their kids (and be constantly stressed, anxious and guilt-ridden as a consequence). The Good Mommy standard that has arisen since the 1960s has stripped women of permission to be righteous authority figures in their childrens lives. It has transformed the liberated woman into a certified Milquetoast Mom.
Concerning your stepsons tantrums, youre doing precisely what I recommend. Given that you have only 30 percent custody, hes taking two steps forward when hes with you and then at least one step backward when hes back with his enabler-in-chief. In time, you will cure him of what I prefer to call high self-esteem seizures at your house, but this is going to be an uphill battle. Stay the course. Your resolve will eventually pay off.