Tantrums – A Respectful Point of View
I’ve always said my children don’t have tantrums, but I’ve realised they probably do, I just don’t view them as such.
Where others see a tantrum I see a child struggling to manage their emotions. A tired child not coping well or a child releasing their stress through tears. Scientists have found cortisol (the stress hormone) in tear fluid so the body literally releases stress through crying.
So although it’s often frustrating for us when they can’t cope and stirs up lots of negative feelings in us (usually because of how we were parented), I see it as perfectly normal and healthy. Even helpful.
Tantrums are also seen as them ‘pushing our button’ or learning to get what they want by screaming until we give in. When we adults get upset and scream at someone is that what we’re doing? Think about how you were feeling the last time it happened to you – how did you feel? Angry? Out of control? Scared? Worried? Confused? Sad?
Most people don’t ‘put on’ emotions in order to manipulate others. I think one of the key points to remember is that all children want to be loved and accepted by their parents/caregivers. They don’t MEAN to act in a way that displeases us. Our brains are all different, developing at different rates and how much stress we can tolerate is unique to us all so children all manage things at different rates and with differing competency.
When a child lashes out at another person that person is often seen as the victim and the child is scolded. But in that moment the child is also a victim – of their emotions, of their immature brains and of their low self esteem. The shame and guilt the child feels after is punishment enough. Providing them with love and empathy in that moment will enable them to heal, consider what they did and let us in to help them manage their emotions better the next time. It’s in these moments children often find their own solutions to their mistake.
We need to consider the message we send to our children. Ignoring or punishing tantrums sends a very unhealthy message and doesn’t actually help the child now or for future them. Active listening, being present and empathic and sportscasting are 3 methods you can use during emotional turmoil. Often the child just needs to feel heard and valued or are tired and there is no fixing it without more sleep.
Practical solutions are helpful too. Maybe your child is struggling at playgroup one morning and you suspect they are tired – take them home so they are not put into stressful situations like sharing. If they are cold/hot, hungry, scared, sad, worried etc. see what practical solutions there are. And don’t be worried about ‘giving in’ to your child. Be practical and realise your children aren’t waiting to swoop the minute your guard is down. We need to work as a team and teach them they are valued in the family and we respect their opinion.
What do we want our child to learn from a ‘tantrum’? I would hope it would be skills to manage emotions, that they are loved unconditionally and to show empathy when others are suffering. What is not healthy is a child who is mindlessly obedient without knowing how to self regulate and make amends.
So people may say my children do have tantrums but I don’t like the word. It’s another negative word we feel is OK to use about our children and not about ourselves, when essentially we experience the same process – theirs is just an immature version (although I have seen many adults handle their emotions less capably than my 2 year old). I think the words we use are very important – not only to our children but about them. It affects the way we think about them and view the situation which affects the way we treat them.
Mary talks a lot about the words we use and why they’re important. And how to deal with explosive moments.
Some other books I found excellent on this matter were:
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