Discovering The Value of a Good Tantrum

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Last weekend, somewhere between the collards and the spinach, the peaceful plodding of putting in our garden went wrong and I got really grumpy with my husband, Tom.

One minute we were chatting over seedlings and the next I was feeling wronged and misunderstood.  After some less than helpful squabbling, Tom, brilliant man that he is, took a deep breath, looked right at me, and said, “OK, tell me all of it.””I hate it when you judge me!” I ranted and raved.  I went on recounting inconveniences that were building steam in the back of my mind as resentments.  Before I knew it, I was talking about the hard look in my mother's eyes when she deemed one of my childhood accomplishments beneath her notice. He was sitting right beside me handing me a Kleenex.  And I was already starting to feel better.When I stepped into the garden half an hour before, I had had no idea all of that was brewing inside of me.  If my husband hadn't stopped to pay attention and listen, I might not know it now.  That gift of caring attention helped me release the feelings that were interfering with my ability to relate to Tom and feel connected and understood.  I also learned some important things about myself while building a stronger sense of closeness in my marriage.

And this is exactly what children need when they have their tantrums.  Whether you are four or forty, being human means having to deal with a lot of feelings, feelings that don't come with a time stamp. They can sneak up on you, just like Tom triggering memories of how small and insignificant I felt as a child under my mother's judgmental gaze.  And we all, big and small, deserve the opportunity to share how we feel in a caring, thoughtful and non-judgmental space.

It saddens me when I hear parents proudly say they don't put up with tantrums and send their kids off to the solitary confinement of their rooms until they can behave “properly.”  I know they love their children, but what a lost opportunity to nurture and support them!  That would be like my husband telling me, “I have no intention of loving all of you.  I only want to see the parts that work for me.”

We are social animals.  We all need connection with others.  And sometimes, when we are overwhelmed with feelings, relating “properly” gets hard to do.  But opening your heart and your arms to the feelings that are overwhelming your child clears her mind, allows her to think and learn unhindered by emotional baggage and builds an essential level of trust and closeness in the relationship between you.

So, the next time your two-year-old starts to fall apart in the grocery store, just imagine I am there with you, with one arm around your shoulders saying, “Wow!  You're a lucky parent. What a great chance for you guys to get closer.”  Maybe that will help you take a deep breath, bend down, and say, “Tell me all of it.”

–Juli Idleman

For your free copy of Tantrums and Indignation by Patty Wipfler, click here.

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7 thoughts on “Discovering The Value of a Good Tantrum”

  1. Dear Juli,

    I was reading through the site to get some perspective on how I can find the compassion within me to listen to my daughter and son when they have just finished pounding on each other and fighting for a hug from me. Thank you for what you wrote. It is really important to remember how lucky we are to be parents to our children and find ways to be closer and connected with them. I will remember you.

  2. Thanks for this article. I have a 2.5 year old so this is a timely read for me. Your closing paragraph was so beautifully written I had to share it out loud with my husband

  3. Hi Julie,
    An article was posted outside the door of my daughters KG class to help parents “get rid” of tantrums. The article advises to put your child in a bathroom alone when they tantrum, and soon enough they’ll stop it entirely. I had a good cry over this, and am ready to get in action to present the Parenting by Connection view! I know there’s the booklet, but I’m looking for a shorter article to hang on the door, that preferably mentions brain research to support our humane view. Do you know of one that would be good? Thank you so much! Cheta

  4. Okay so here is my story…
    i have daughter who will be three in July. she is my third child, the elder sister is 12 & 1/2, brother is 10 & 1/2 years old. She started throwing tantrums around 19-20 months of age and is still throwing them several times a day for about an hour long each on the average. And they can be for the most irrational thing! For example, she’ll not want to get her diaper changed, she’ll scream that she wants to stay in a dirty diaper (I haven’t been able to potty train her because of this! her sister was trained before 2yo and brother a few months over 2yo), not wanting to change her clothes, not taking a bath, because she wants to hit her brother, she wants a green lollipop, tantrum because i was talking to her brother or sister, or they came and sat next to me!! i was taking her to daycare at work (my husband and i run a school) and when time came to go home she would scream that she wants to stay at school and not go home! so i started leaving her at home with her grandmother to avoid these daily scenes she was creating. recently she has started throwing tantrums when i change my clothes(!!!), when i eat! she says mama don’t eat and she holds on to both my arms! she has even done this in public, at a family event. she doesn’t let me do anything, she say she wants me to hold her. she is just getting worse and i feel like i’ll loose it one of these days!
    When she throws a tantrum i remain as calm as i can, stay close to her hold her, hug her, i try to distract her with other things, telling stories, singing songs, books, but she has started hitting me and throwing things. Other times i just hold her and silently listen to her scream it out… she is too attached to me, and wants my attention all the time, she even goes to sleep holding on to my arm! as much as that bothers me, i just don’t know how to get her out of this habit. She is extremely intelligent, has a very advanced vocabulary for her age, she speaks two languages, and now she is picking up a third. so i know its not because she can’t express her needs verbally. Please help. Also i’d like to mention that when i’m not at home, during the day she is absolutely fine! she is an angel! Why does she give me a tough time?!! what am i doing wrong?

  5. Pingback: How to Unload Anger, Frustration, and Overwhelm without Dumping It On Your Kids | Parenting Beyond Punishment

  6. I like this article. It has a lot of value for the most part. You didn’t mention if you have children. I am grandma now and care for my 15 mo. old granddaughter every day while mom and dad work. Luckily, so far, she has not really been prone to tantrums. At least any that last more than a minute or so. One thing, though, to keep in mind, is that children can be masters of manipulation. A parent must have the difficult task of determining if the tantrum is a need for understanding and nurturing, or a calculated ploy to get you to do/give what they want. 🙂

  7. What timing that this post came through my news feed on FB. I’ve been dealing/struggling with the attitude of “I have no intention of loving all of you. I only want to see the parts that work for me” from my own father from childhood through adulthood. It’s funny how having a child can make you view your existing family relationships with new eyes. As my daughter hits birthday number two she is becoming deep into tantrums at home and in public. It’s hard sometimes to remember her emotions are bigger than her body, just like mine are sometimes too. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m working so hard to connect with all parts of her. Especially the parts that feel prickly, loud, and overwhelming because I do love her. All of her. When she’s happy, sad, angry, or explosive my level of love never changes. Grateful for this perspective in this moment.

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