Lest anyone think that poor Will is still locked up in his bedroom, crying, he came out after his TWO HOUR tantrum yesterday and actually was a reasonable child for the rest of the day. We had a pleasant day. Since he had tantrumed through breakfast and refused his waffle and sausage, he was starving at lunchtime and ate almost an entire box of macaroni and cheese, plus chicken nuggets, and corn. He then took a nice, long nap, which allowed both of us some time to restore.
I read each of your comments (and the half dozen e-mails that I got) and I am both grateful that I am not the only one to encounter these issues, and also eager to try some new strategies. What we are currently doing isn't really working well, so I am always eager to try something different.
I do try to help Will express his feelings and attempt to empathasize with him through his tantrums. Especially when he first starting having these drastic tantrums that were so unlike what we had experienced before. I figured he was sick. . . or tired. . . or having an out of body experience. Over time, I have found that the problem is that though he will respond to that. . . he will then ramp up again when he realizes that he still isn't getting what he wants.
If I can catch him before he gets to the "Red Zone" of his tantrum, I might have about a ten percent chance of distracting or redirecting him. So, I do try. But. . . again, it's all in the timing. And if it is something he is absolutely set on, then it doesn't matter what I do to try and change things up. Putting him in his room is really just the best for everyone. It's best for him because it seems to be where he can calm himself down the best and it's best for me because I can keep my cool when I get some time away from the intense screaming. Also, please know, I don't just leave him in there by himself for the entire time. I go and check on him from time to time to make sure he is okay. I tell him he is welcome to come out of his room any time he is done crying. And when he comes out (done with his tantrum), I greet him as if he has been at sea for seven years. I tell him how happy I am that he is done crying and I immediately give him lots of positive attention.
As far as preventing a tantrum, goes. . . I give him a lot of choices through out the day ("Do you want waffles or pancakes for breakfast?", "Do you want to wear the digger shirt or the choo choo shirt?","Do you want to go to Safeway or WinCo to grocery shop?", etc.) and I don't care that he picks a specific utensil, shirt, crayon, store, toy, etc. The only problem with that is sometimes his requests are inappropriate or I simply cannot give him what he wants (my friend wasn't even home yesterday) and then. . . well, tantrum here we go.
I should point out that, in between tantrums and arguments, Will is still a wonderful little boy. His preschool teacher always compliments his "big heart" and tells me that when a fellow classmate hurts themself, he is the first to put down whatever he is doing and run to his injured friend to pat their back and ask the teacher for an "ice pack" for them.
The reason that this behavior tears at my heart the most is not the headache it causes me. It is the fact that he seems so desperately unhappy. I hate to see him so sad, angry, and frustrated. Up until a few weeks ago, if I had just one word to describe Will, it would have been "HAPPY". Now, I guess I would have to use the word "ANGRY", and that just makes me feel awful. It also makes me take a swim in the sea of Mom-guilt. After all, we are in the middle of a big change as a family. I have been gone more lately and will definitely be gone more very shortly. Has this shift caused this, or would it have happened regardless? No way to know, and soon this new way of life will become our new normal, and so if that's the cause, it should fade. If it's simply The Threes, well, that will fade, too. So, we'll never know. The important thing will be that he does settle down a bit and we are able to help him manage his temper and frustrations more effectively as time goes on.
In any case, I appreciate your wisdom, candor, and support. This parenting thing isn't easy and I am so glad to have you along for the ride. The hardest thing about being a mom (for me) is when I feel as if my kids are unhappy and I don't know how to make it better for them.