Tantrums are Teaching Tools

11216521_10153303978851972_3647234326667884486_oI’ll crouch down as you stomp your feet on the hot pavement of the parking lot, your little face contorted with upset. You are trying to tell me something but your words are not coming and you are furious at the words that you cannot find.

I will count back from ten so that I do not use my words too soon.

“Keenie.” I will start after I wait a second or two longer.

That will be all that I say.

I will wait and watch your eyes.

“Keenie.” I will say, again. Your stomping stops. You stand there with your body rigid.

“Keenie, you are trying to tell me something.” I will say.

I see this path in my head as I wait to respond. As I wait to start acting.

She is miserable.

People stream around us. Cars pass us by. We are safely crouched here, time simply doesn’t matter. Watching eyes do not matter. I simply do not care.

I am parenting as though no one is watching.

Because I have decided that I do not care if anyone is.

I breathe. Her eyes are on me.

“Keenie, are you trying to tell me that you want something?” I ask.

She shakes her head no.

“Keenie, are you trying to tell me that you want to do something?” I ask.

Her frustration lifts a bit. She nods. Her face unsure.

“Do you know what you want to do?” I ask her.

She doesn’t.

The simple truth of it is that this is the time where she would have napped if she hadn’t stopped napping months ago. Instead she becomes cranky at this time on some of the days that we pass through.

She is not trying to get anything out of me. She is not trying to manipulate me. She is struggling with self regulation.

I am not struggling with self regulation. I’ve made the grown up choice to be calm.

“Would you like me to try to help you figure out what you want to do?” I ask her.

She nods.

“You can say ‘mommy, mommy, I am upset because I want to DO SOMETHING!” I suggest.

She repeats the words that I have given her.

I laugh and smile and start offering suggestions.

I’ve had people tell me that I should just ignore the tantrum. That I should punish the tantrum. That I should do all kinds of different things. That by staying calm and “rewarding” her through trying to figure out what it is that she wants, I am encouraging these outbursts.

This outburst of hers lasted all of two minutes, when it could have dragged on for much longer.

I am rewarding something. I’m rewarding her for trying to communicate even though she doesn’t understand what it is that she is upset about.

I am teaching her to say “Mommy, I’m upset.”

I know far too many adults that have to retreat into solitude with their upset  instead of saying to their husband or their relative or friend “Hey. I’m upset.”

I’d like to teach her other ways.

The time for that is now. Not when she’s grown bigger and is upset about things that I can relate to more easily.

The time is now, while her views of the world are still forming.

6 thoughts on “Tantrums are Teaching Tools

  1. Thank you…just what I needed to read right now as my almost-4-year old is starting to give up naps, and we are struggling through some rough afternoons.

  2. Also good to hear, as I was thinking I am “supposed” to “force” him to nap until he no longer “tantrums” on days were he doesn’t nap. Like you say it actually makes the tantrums longer. He will then tell me tens of millions of stories to avoid actually falling asleep, like “I’m watching the wall now…..sleep….I’m watching the ceiling now….sleep…..I need juice….sleep….I need to wee…” Eventually I end up asking “would you rather play outside…” “yessss mommy (Like how could mommy not know that is what I want to do)”. Many people told me if I let go of naps he will sleep worse, but he actually sleeps much better if we skip naps. His school forces all kids to nap, should I ask them to let him play quietly somewhere while others nap?? Some days he comes home frustrated, I’m starting to think it’s days where he was “forced” to be a “baby” when he is so grown up and inquisitive.

    1. My middle child didn’t need a nap but he needed “downtime” in an activity he found zen. For him it was playing with Legos. So he’ll do that for an hour each day during the time where he would usually be cranky and needing a nap.

      I’d definitely ask daycare if your son could do some sort of activity that helps him recharge. :)

      1. Good idea! Thanks so much. I literally have no friends that are raising their kids in the same way as we do, helps to hear some good advice from someone that thinks the same way..

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