Whoever dubbed them "the terrible twos" must have never have spent time with a three-year-old. I'm here to tell you that two has nothing on three when it comes to testing, challenging and fighting for control over every.little.thing. Seriously! And because Mama can't, or won't, give in to the incessant demands for things to be done Sprout's way, we inevitably run smack into the dreaded temper tantrum.
(And to the nice elderly lady who smiles and says "Enjoy every moment" when my kid is melting down in the checkout line at Target - surely you didn't mean this particular moment, right?)
Anyway, in an effort to give Sprout words for his emotions, and to help him understand that his feelings are all part of life as we know it, I of course turned to books. There are, thankfully, a number of picture books about anger and tantrums, but here are a few that especially resonated with us, and maybe helped a little with that anger management too.
First up is Rachel Vail's Sometimes I'm Bombaloo, a great springboard for discussion about the changeable nature of moods. Katie is a pretty easygoing kid, usually. She loves her family and she has great manners, even at the table. But every so often Katie gets pushed to the edge - and that's when she becomes Bombaloo, an angry monster who acts first and thinks later. Vail does a great job of exploring Katie's emotions, even hinting at what might have driven Katie to go Bombaloo (her brother knocking over her block tower. Sprout understands this one completely.) Bombaloo has consequences, as Vail demonstrates, but just as quickly as she disappeared, Katie is back to herself again. I love that there are apologies and hugs after the Bombaloo phase, showing that being sorry for your actions is an important part of the process. And it's given us a great new term for expressing our anger, which we now call "going Bombaloo".
Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliott follows a household through the rages and stages of one little boy's tantrums. Again, we have a generally mellow kid who, when his mommy offers him his favorite peaches, is suddenly overcome by a temper fit resulting in all kinds of crazy consequences. There are storm clouds in the nursery, then lightning in the kitchen, and before you know it Finn's hapless parents are trying to survive a storm of apocalyptic proportions. But it all passes soon enough, and Finn is back to his sweet self. Though Elliott doesn't delve into as deep an examination of mood as Vail does, he does chart the escalation of the temper tantrum effectively (Sprout says, "uh-oh, he's getting really mad now!"). And the messy, sketchy artwork by Timothy Basil Ering suits the varying moods of a tantruming toddler to the T. Peaches, anyone?
In Linda Urban's Mouse Was Mad, the title character is peeved from the get-go. We never do find out what set him off, but the more Mouse tries to act out his frustrations, the more angry he gets. He's hopping mad - but he can't hop near as well as Hare. He's stomping mad - but Bear's the king of stomping. And with each successive failure to properly demonstrate anger, Mouse gets more and more explosive. Finally Mouse is so mad that he can't even move. . . and he finds that in standing still, his anger suddenly evaporates. We talked about the solution Mouse comes to at some length as we read this book, and even tried it once, with shockingly effective results. Of course, the trick is getting Sprout to stand still, but Urban's incredibly important lesson - that sometimes you need to step away and just cool off - seems to be sticking with him. And anyway, it's better than being "rolling on the ground" mad!
I usually limit these quick review posts to three titles, but I just have to mention one of my favorites, Norton Juster's Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie. Readers will recognize the multiracial family from Juster's earlier book The Hello Goodbye Window, one of our all-time favorites. This time our little girl shows off her dual personalities, the contentious Sourpuss and compliant Sweetie Pie, as she visits her grandparents. It's hard to know just what makes one show up and the other disappear, but it's very clear that these two couldn't be more dissimilar. Sprout loves to pick out which one is Sourpuss (she of screwed-up face and crossed arms) and which one is Sweetie Pie (smiles and laughter, of course). And sometimes both girls are there at once, to Nanna and Poppy's great consternation. Tracking the evolution of moods isn't easy, but Juster and illustrator Chris Raschka give us one especially genius spread that does just that, as our heroine turns from angry to happy in the space of a few sentences. Parents especially will identify with the exhausted Nanna and Poppy, who hope for nothing more than to see just Sweetie Pie at the breakfast table.
What are your favorite titles for coping with emotions? Drop me a line and we'll check them out - we can always use one more!