“How to Discipline a Tantruming Child”. Wait. What? Discipline Feelings?

I’ve drifted pretty far away from conventional approaches to tantrums. I simply see them as emotional reactions. Disappointment, sadness, frustration, overwhelm, over stimulation, confusion, over tiredness, hunger, fear, an inability to parse words into sentences, an inability to vent a sudden strong feeling in a slower more calm way.

When I see my child having one of these reactions I don’t really view it as a single unified thing. It’s many things that manifest themselves loudly and with tears. Sometimes with hitting, foot stomping, yelling, crying, storming away or clinging close.

I still read a variety of pretty traditional publications, though. And so I see tantrums being talked about in terms of manipulation, “getting their way”, breaking the tantrum, disciplining the tantruming child, isolating them, ignoring them, training them to not tantrum.

It’s odd for me to read because I start asking “Is anger manipulative? Is sadness manipulative? Frustration?”

Truth is, many adults throw tantrums too. They curse. They throw things. Some even punch holes in walls. Some yell. Some storm away.

I learned as a young adult that what I feel and what is happening are separate things. I learned to slow down and try something else. To walk away from a frustrating thing and try again later when I am calm with a clearer head. I learned to seek help, to watch, and to try again myself once I had a better picture of what it was that I was trying to accomplish.

I am teaching my children those life skills now as they are small. I believe that they are learned skills that can be mastered and used throughout life.

I don’t believe that I need to ignore, to isolate, to break, or to give in or bribe a child to stop feeling something that they can slowly and surely learn to harness and control.

Kids are people. They’re immature people with strong feelings and not much experience with how the world works. They need the years to learn that and to experience things and for their brains to grow and develop to the point where everything is in place.

There’s a name for that. Maturity.

You can’t wave a magic wand over a fifteen month old or a two year old or a four or eight year old.

It’s something that they grow into. With support, patience, and teaching.

8 thoughts on ““How to Discipline a Tantruming Child”. Wait. What? Discipline Feelings?

  1. I totally agree. We might see our children also as the guardians of our being…. how far away from ourselves are we..what ‘role’ do we play..can we get close to our own being and lose all the roles..starting to just ‘Be’..
    and the magic happens 😉

  2. Do you have some suggestions or good books/articles where I can read more about this approach, especially relating to 2year old’s?

  3. One thing I have come to realize though is that discipline style HAS to change based on the child involved. My daughter needs time outs – she even asks for them. When she’s screaming and crying and having a “tantrum” I ask her if she would like a time out and she says through tears “ye-ye-yes!” We walk upstairs to her room, she lies down and cries and then I come back and she says “I done mama” and we go about our business. If I try to comfort her, talk to her, rub her back, etc she looses her mind. She’s like me. I want to lock myself in a bathroom, cry for five minutes and then I’m done. I really struggled with accepting time outs were going to be part of our family’s way, and I have had so many friends and other moms berate me for time outs. Which frustrates me because I am doing what we should all be doing – listening and responding to what my child wants and needs. It isn’t how I envisioned this aspect of my parenting, but it’s what she wants and needs and it has worked great so far!

    1. Yes. Absolutely.

      My daughter went through a period of time when she wanted to be alone for a tantrum. Now she’s going through a period where she doesn’t want to be alone.

      It’s okay to offer a time out, offer alone time, respect alone time, etc. It’s okay (and good) for a parent to know when THEY need a break as well, and to take their own time-outs. Using aloneness as a punishment for having strong feelings is different from those things.

  4. Just throwing this in the ring–it feels like you are using the word “discipline” for “punishment.” And while I agree that feelings should not be punished, to me “discipline” means “guiding toward correct, right behavior.” The expression of feelings absolutely can be guided and shaped, and should. Adults *shouldn’t* throw tantrums–we shouldn’t throw things and curse. That expectation can be shared with kids, even very young ones. Maturity doesn’t just happen–it’s grown. Discipline, as I understand it, is the method by which maturity is developed.

    1. Rowenna, Agreed. :) I provide discipline for the behavior related to the emotions in that I guide my child in the direction of being able to be in control of how their emotions come out and how they cope with and deal with their emotions.

      The title comes from how people talk about disciplining emotions. “My child is melting down. How do I discipline him? Well how about a time out or a spanking?”

      When I read “How do I discipline my child” I do tend to read it as a reference to punishment more often than I read it as a reference to guidance. “How do I provide guidance?” “How do I punish”.

      You are very right about the meaning of the word “discipline”, though. :)

  5. Absolutely love your posts! Was wondering if you had any advice on how I should help my 14 month old during a tantrum . He started off with banging his head on the floor and now just stomping and crying (at home or in public) I don’t want to have to drag him home when he’s angry and it’s usually when he wants to do something that is not always acceptable. I feel like I may have spoilt him. He’s had a rough time since birth ( acid reflux , underweight , UTI and gas pangs) so I’ve held him a LOT and at 14 months we still co sleep. Any advice would be helpful I don’t want to lose my temper but sometimes it’s quite difficult.

    1. For public tantrums I try to take the child to a safe place off to the sidelines or outside and I provide comfort, words, and empathy. Often kids aren’t even throwing tantrums because “I’m not getting what I want”, they’re just upset. And the way that adults respond to their upset doesn’t make it much better.

      “I want this toy.”
      “Sorry not today.”
      *child gets a little bit upset*
      “I’m sorry but you’re not getting the toy today.”
      *child gets more upset*
      “Look. I know you really want the toy but you are NOT getting the toy today.”
      *child freaks completely out*
      *Punishment or removal from the store ensues*


      “I want this toy!”
      “That’s a very interesting toy. It has a lot of colors. Let’s look at it for a minute before we finish shopping.”
      “Can I have the toy?”
      “I’m sorry, we have a shopping list we are following. Would you like to help me find the bread?”

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