Tantrum in The Library
A good friend of mine who works in a library was telling me about an 8 year old girl she witnessed having a tantrum today. Something had set the girl off and she was totally losing it, screaming, thrashing about and generally making a big scene!
One of the library staff went over to her father and told him he has to get her outside because it was disturbing the other patrons at the library.
The father was telling the girl to “stop behaving that way, calm down, lower your voice.”
None of this was helping her to calm down, or to teach her any lessons about managing her emotions.
Tantrums are Emotionally Triggering
Dealing with tantrums can be very emotionally triggering for the parent.
When our kids are in distress we feel it very deeply and it can cause us to be less conscious.
Memories of how we were treated as children when we had tantrums assert themselves in these moments and affect how we react. We are usually not aware of this, but it does affect us.
The problem with tantrums is, because of the high emotional content it is difficult not to focus on the behavior.
It is difficult to see them for the wonderful learning and growth opportunities that they are.
A Tantrum Can Feel Like an Attack
We feel almost assaulted by this behavior. We can also become very concerned with how others are viewing us as a family, our children and judging us as parents.
When the tantrum becomes personal it is almost impossible to see through the emotions to the potential lesson within.
So one of the first skills we ourselves have to develop in order to maximize the potential of the moment is to learn to not take this personally.
When we can achieve relative objectivity in these moments we can focus on being a Support to our children in their distress as well as sharing important lessons.
Emotions Are Natural
One of the most important lessons we can offer our children at these times is that their emotions are natural and acceptable.
When we can be friends with the full range of our emotions then we do not need to repress or hide from those parts of ourselves.
The way we embrace or reject our children’s difficult emotions informs them about how valid those feelings are. It is important to remember that young children develop their own sense of themselves by how we react to them.
Respond With Uncommon Acceptance
If a child has a tantrum, screaming and yelling and your response is to say something like
“I perfectly understand why you are feeling this way. I would feel the same. I would scream and yell too. I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It’s good that you are expressing yourself in this manner because you are being true to your emotions and your expression.”
Then they feel so deeply validated. They get the message that their feelings are natural and acceptable. They will soon grow into a deep familiarity and comfort with their negative emotions.
This will allow them to learn to deal with them in a healthier manner than if they are forced to repress them every time they come up.
Point out the good rather than criticize the bad
The key here is not that you are rewarding bad behavior, which is the common reaction I often hear when I make this suggestion. It is that you are pointing out the good aspects of what they are doing in an atmosphere of Loving acceptance.
This has a much more profound effect upon their consciousness than scolding them ever will.
Demonstrate Unconditional Love
The second important lesson children learn from this unorthodox reaction to a tantrum is that their parents love them unconditionally.
Now let me be clear, I know that you love your children unconditionally no matter what they are doing. The question is, in that moment do they know it?
By embracing them during this difficult emotional experience you are giving them the message that you love and accept them no matter what. This gives them the confidence that they can approach you without fear, regardless of what they are feeling or how they may be acting.
You Become Their Safest Place
This is the kind of emotional safety and security a child needs in order to be truly open with their parents.
This kind of unconditional acceptance sets a foundation with your children that will last a lifetime.
I think that both of these lessons are tremendously valuable. I believe they are definitely worth the effort to achieve.
I recognize what I am suggesting is very difficult. There are so many obstacles to this kind of reaction.
The first as I mentioned before is our own emotional reaction to the tantrum.
The second is the sense of losing control, losing power within the relationship with our children.
The third is the judgment of other people in our surroundings when our kid is having a meltdown.
And yet all three of these obstacles can be overcome with some conscious inner work.
I lovingly suggest giving this a try the next time your kid has an extreme emotional reaction.
It isn’t easy, but with some consistent work the benefits will be quite amazing. The frequency and intensity of tantrums will decrease and your child’s trust in you and your ability to contain their emotions dramatically increases. Both of those are pretty good outcomes!