Help! My kid is having a tantrum!
One of the most common questions when it comes to peaceful parenting is what the hell to do in an acute situation, say, when the child is having a tantrum?
Tantrums have many different triggers ranging from ‘that piece of Lego doesn’t fit’ to ‘that’s the wrong spoon!’ Or ‘I am not getting into the car now’ to ‘I want that toy now!’
There are times when tantrums arise from the lack of autonomy. We can observe this phenomenon in the authoritarian paradigm aka in common child-raising. Children will fight for their right to do and decide certain things for themselves – the more so if they are constantly directed by others.
When children have been accustomed to the power-over paradigm they will seek to overpower others, as is being done to them. Such behavior may lead to being overtaxed, aggressive or discontented, and often culminates to a tantrum.
In other cases children may have an emotional meltdown because they have too much responsibility for themselves (to read my article on responsibility click here) and wish for a little more guidance in decision making.
The Autonomy Phase (falsely known as The Terrible Twos) is a time in children’s lives where they build their abilities to withstand frustration and learn which things they can do for themselves and when they require the support of an adult. When they have the opportunity to figure this out, they want to make use of the adult’s mass of experience, our advice and our guidance. And for the rest of it, they’ll cry their eyes out in our laps, knowing we are there to accompany them through their frustration.
Tantrums may reach the point of anger and frustration, where children communicate with their fists, bites or kicks. It is important to know they never mean to hurt us; they are communicating to the best of their abilities and cannot fathom our feelings on the subject. They are very busy with what is troubling them and are already so overtaxed with their own emotions, needless to say they cannot carry the responsibility for ours, too. Tantrums are oftentimes the tip of the iceberg; an underlying issue is the cause, the tantrum the communication.
There is always a need underlying behavior. This can range from the need for calm, the need for attention, the need for emotional validation or the need for connection.
Our reaction to our child’s behavior is certainly crucial to the development of the tantrum. When we see ourselves as victims the child becomes the perpetrator – something no child can handle. The emotional overload becomes unbearable and the required guidance is eliminated, leaving the child in a state of neglect. Example: “I can’t stand your tantrums, you are ruining our day, you are making me so angry, you need to stop hurting me, you always do this, all I want is to have a nice time”
I would like to hear people say “Oh my goodness – that is the extent of this child’s distress! We must support/listen to/accompany him/her through it” and replace the common “that child needs to learn how to behave.”
There are times where you’re just not sure what triggered a tantrum.
Let’s ask ourselves in which moments we lose our patience and react to stress with a form of tantrum. With me it’s when I’m hungry, when my surroundings are too loud or when more than one person is talking at me at the same time. I become stressed out on so many levels that the slightest thing can trigger a meltdown.
Overstimulating situations cause stress-reactions and a reduction in our impulse control, because the Flight, Fight or Freeze mode is activated, dampening the more developed and human parts of our brains. Impulse control develops differently in every child, sometimes only maturing in the teenage years, so children are already at a disadvantage to begin with.
Furthermore some children have had the pleasure of developing their self-regulatory abilities, and some have not. Children who needn’t fight for autonomy, who experience a friendly and guiding manner from their parents and feel validated in their emotions may not have tantrums or show displays of despair or indecision quite so often. Some children just have a higher threshold for stress. Other children have a lower tolerance and react to their discomfort and emotional overload by means of a tantrum or aggressive behavior.
In such cases we should ask ourselves what caused the overload, not only what triggered the tantrum. By doing this I always find reasons why my very sensitive son becomes out of sync with me. When there is too much noise, too many people or too much uncertainty, my son communicates with a meltdown, triggered sometimes by something that may initially seem insignificant.
When we know our children react in such a way, we can facilitate their needs and reduce stress factors.
Where is our place while our children communicate by means of a tantrum? We must take our children seriously without adding drama to the issue. We must accompany our children through their anger and frustration, and validate their feelings, instead of becoming the opponent by suppressing them.
*I remind myself my son is communicating and is as lost as he seems
*I remind myself he isn’t hitting me, but rather trying to get rid of his anger
*I may need to calm myself down by breathing deeply. Sometimes I pace through our home, he follows me; I walk off my own anger –I don’t shut him in a room
*If he is hitting me I stop his blows, but do not hold his arms
*If he is unreachable I may perhaps stamp or jump up and down in order to gain his attention saying “I know! This is so annoying! Are you so angry because…” By doing this I bring him back to the present, connect with him, and show him I understand him and he is not alone. It may also have a comical quality, and if the mood fits that will ease the direness of the situation and elevate the mood. Situations are unique, do whatever feels right for you
*I reassure him it is fine to be angry
*I validate his feelings and sort them out for him: Are you sad because you wanted to buy this toy now and I told you I haven’t the means right now? I understand. That’s upsetting, I know. It would be lovely to take it home with us right now. How about we save up for it? YES? Then we imagine and look forward to the day we purchase it. NO? Then I accompany him through his pain
*I listen to what he has to say, when he’s ready to speak
*I speak slowly and quietly, which has a calming effect on him
*I rub his feet, legs or back, which seems to give him a physical outlet for the anger
*I offer physical contact through holding him, hugging him and perhaps rocking him in my lap
*I tell him I’ve got him, I’m here
*If my eleven year old is angry, I give him space to calm down (my youngest wouldn’t want it)
I invite you to take your liberty and join the revolution!