A Journey into a Tantrum (and how to let them offload)


I understood once again that the best way to help our children is offering the kind of connection that allows them to offload their emotions, through laughter or tears. Crying is not bad. When a child is crying we need to show that we are in this together with her and that she will cross over through pain, sadness, and anger and will arrive on the other side feeling much better. We can show this with our eyes, our presence and just a few words, not trying to placate or stop the crying.

Yesterday I had a tough workday. I needed to create a slideshow during the morning and after that I was going to a partners meeting to have a difficult business conversation. I managed to meditate, work and prepare breakfast before everyone else was awake. But after that I was running around with no time for connection. I worked in the morning, had a quick bite for lunch and went to my meeting. I came back home at 19:30, after the kids and Regiane, my wife, had eaten dinner. I ate a sandwich. I was stressed and sad. I didn’t even talk to Leo (my 2 year old son) and around 20:00 he asked to nurse and sleep.

It was weird because we play every night after dinner and then we have tea before going to sleep. Regiane took him to the room and I stayed with Luna, my 4 year old daughter.

We did some playing. I was tired but tried to give her my full attention. She wanted to play in her trapeze. She asked me to try and grab her feet while she was swinging. I tried to catch her feet but let it slide and she laughed about it. I did it several times more until she stopped laughing. She then wanted to swing in a sling that we hang from the ceiling. She asked me to push her so her feet would touch the ceiling (we have a very low ceiling on the mezzanine). And she laughed some more. We played until our agreed time was over.

Frustration Builds

We went to the kitchen so I could prepare the tea. She asked me to read a story while we waited for the tea to be ready. The story she wanted was on Regiane’s iPad. I took the iPad and started reading it to her but halfway through the battery died. Luckily I knew the end of the story. I am bringing this up to illustrate how children are frustrated with small and big stuff through the day. This frustration builds up inside them and needs to be released somehow.

When I finished the story, I served the tea: a cup for me, one for her, and another for Regiane, who was still in the bedroom with Leo. Luna asked to go into the bedroom and my first reaction was to say, “No.” I was afraid she was going to wake up Leo. I told her she could go quietly. She opened the door and told Regiane the tea was ready in a soft voice. Regiane said she was going to join us in a bit, but didn’t (another frustration).

This is what happened during teatime:

Me: Let’s think about what we most liked in our day or about something we are grateful. (We do this every night)

Luna: Where’s mommy?

Me: Where’s mommy?

Luna: She is with Leo. She is going to miss teatime!

Me: She will drink later. Did you think about something good?

Luna: I am not going to say anything!

(First red flag: she is always able to mention one or two good things that happened during the day)

Me: All right. I am going to say then.

Luna: I am not going to toast with you.

(Second red flag: we always make a toast when someone says something good that happened during the day)

Me: All right.

Luna: I am going to call mommy.

After the 2 red flags it was clear that Luna needed a limit, so she could offload her feelings.

Me: No, you are going to stay here with daddy.

If she was feeling well, it would be ok for her to stay with me, but she started to cry. Now it was time to do some Staylistening.

Luna: I want mommy! I want to sleep!

Me (calmly): We are going to stay here.

Luna: I am going to cry until mommy comes! (She starts crying and screaming.)

Me: You are going to wake Leo up and Mommy wont be able to come.

What a mistake! I forgot for a second that at this moment she was flooded with emotions and needed connection not explanation. When our limbic system inundates our brain with emotions, the pre-frontal cortex (the rational part of the brain) can’t work well and therefore there is no point in explaining things.

Luna kept crying and I stayed with her. I just listened to her crying and kept eye contact. Leo started crying inside the room and started asking to leave the room. I thought to myself: “I hope Regiane keeps the limit there,” and she did.

Luna started to calm down. When she stopped crying I said I was grateful that her godmother stayed with her during the afternoon so Regiane could run errands. I said it was time to brush her teeth and go to the toilet. She went without a single complaint. She was as happy as she could be. So, after a 3-minute cry she was able to offload some of her feelings and started functioning well again. We went into the room. Leo was awake on Regiane’s lap. I asked Luna to climb to her bed and she did. I closed the door and 10 minutes later Regiane arrived, after letting the two of them fall asleep.

~ Marcelo Michelsohn, Parenting by Connection Instructor

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

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(This post was written by Marcelo Michelsohn, in Portuguese and translated by himself into English. Marcelo is a Parenting by Connection Instructor Candidate in training. If you prefer to read in Portuguese click here. If you would like to suggest his blog to Portuguese speaking friends, go to filhasefilhos.com)

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