Tantrums Come, Tantrums Go
Think way back to the before times…not before COVID, but before children were a part of your day-to-day life. Did you have an opinion about tantrums? When you saw them happening, what were your thoughts? Eye rolls? Perhaps making a judgment about the adult or the child?
Our hands would be going UP on those questions. Yup. Before we were teaching kids and definitely before we had our own children, we thought tantrums were:
Uh…we were so wrong. Tantrums come and tantrums go in our lives - even today with children way out of the toddler stage. That does not mean we relish in tantrums or even accept them all the time. However they do happen. Here’s why.
When your child is in the toddler stage they are developing and changing at a rate that is hard to imagine. Even though we see it right before our eyes, what is happening internally with these little ones goes way beyond what we see on the surface. They are consolidating information, acquiring language, lengthening bones, developing motor acuity and strength all while their mental and emotional selves are in a near constant state of change.
Recall the mood swings and floods of emotion you may have had in adolescence (the other time of life when things are changing rapidly.) Much like the moody teenager who can yell, stomp off, slam doors and ignore a parent, your toddler is facing a similar state of things. The major and significant difference for these little ones is that they can’t always speak or articulate what’s going on. Hungry? Tired? Over-stimulated? Agitated? All prime tantrum material.
And here’s the real kicker…you really can’t rationalize with a toddler. Try as you may, they are just not equipped to think through options and make informed decisions about what is appropriate and what is not. They are very much in the “right now” with almost no regard for “what’s to come.”
Tantrums do not mean you are a terrible, inadequate parent. Tantrums also don’t mean that your child is a bratty monster who will never know how to behave appropriately.
Tantrums are a natural (albeit annoying and exhausting) part of development. Additionally some kiddos are just wired to have them more often and more intensely. One of Amy’s daughters recently proclaimed, “I’m a tantrum expert.” That she is! Tantrums were a part of her development much more so than her siblings. While that has been a real struggle as a parent and as a family, for her it was her way of communicating that she was overwhelmed, stressed and needed other kinds of support.
If you are dealing with the occasional tantrum or what seems like endless tantrums, here are some top tips that might ease things a bit:
Go with the flow, when you can. Fighting a tantrum is a sure way to extend it. If you are in the midst of a tantrum, many times you need to focus on keeping them safe and waiting it out. Try to stay calm and acknowledge the fuss while not adding to it.
Get ahead of it. As your child grows, you may see that there are certain situations that make them prime for a meltdown. Often the tipping point is being over tired, over hungry or over stimulated. Thankfully, these are often things that can be avoided. Restless night or a skipped nap? Probably not the best time for a long grocery shop or activity that demands a particular behavior. Skipped lunch? Have something on hand that is easy, healthy and packs a nutrition punch to take the edge off that hunger and buy you some time. Have a kiddo who is sensitive to crowds or noise or cramped spaces? Plan ahead. Keep stressors at a minimum and work towards how to build stamina in these areas as they mature.
Mix it up. Sometimes tantrums unwittingly become a part of our routine. That can mean that a person, scenario or transition might need a mix up to break that habit. Changing a routine slightly can help change the habit.
It’s not personal, it’s business. The business of parenting, that is. Children are wired to push back and test limits; that is how they learn and grow. Our job as the parent is to support growth, recognize them as individuals with feelings and create limits that reflect your family’s views. Trust your gut and know that this is not personal. You are the best parent you can be for your child. Your child is as amazing and priceless as you know they are.
It’s all temporary. Don’t forget that even the super long tantrum is temporary. It will end and you will be ok. Your child will come back to baseline and rejoin the fold. It’s ok to feel beaten down and hopeless when the tantrums keep coming. It’s ok to even cry from the stress and weight of it all. This is not easy. But it IS temporary.
Don’t forget your village. Parenting is not meant to be done in isolation. There is strength and hope in sharing your journey with someone who sees you for who you are as a parent. Find your village, whether a friend, family member, teacher or pediatrician, seek out help and guidance when it feels like too much.
Amy Mockbee & Emily Boucher
Work & Play ECC