Tantrum truths

Tantrums…they throw a major kink in our day, ruffle our feathers, and test our patience. They.are.hard. For parents and kids alike. They are also quite fascinating to me. Fascinating because I think many of us misunderstand them and in the heat of a tantrum, we would give anything for it to just.be.over.

Here are a few truths about tantrums. Not because these revelations will make them disappear, but because understanding them is the key to coping and helping your child recover from one (hopefully sooner, rather than later!).

1. It’s not about you.

I think in the heat of the moment, we often feel our children are directing all their pent up anger and emotion at us. This can easily put us on the defensive and evoke feelings of anger and frustration in ourselves. But…do your best to take a mental step back from the situation. Take a deep breathe and realize it isn’t about you at all. Sure the fact that you said “no” to another cookie may have triggered the tantrum. But this emotional catharsis isn’t really about that cookie. It’s about big/scary/frustrating feelings that your child just needs to let go of.

2. They happen at the most inopportune times.

Of course they do. In the middle of Target. The school parking lot. The epic meltdown is on display for all to see and you wish you could just crawl under a rock. The reason they happen at the most inopportune times is because we’re busy. Plain and simple. We have things to do in spite of our hungry and overtired children. Life happens. We do our best…but some days…it just happens.

3. They are a normal developmental milestone.

If your child never goes through at least one tantrum, I’d be quite shocked. They are normal. Consider it an emotional catharsis. Necessary for emotional growth.

4. It’s an opportunity for growth.

Speaking of growth…yes, think of tantrums as an opportunity to help your child deal with these big emotions. Allowing them to release the negative feelings without shutting them down will grow their emotional IQ. And believe me, you will grow as a parent too. Just think, after all is said and done, your patience has just doubled in size. And I think that extra bit of patience will definitely come in handy when we need it the most. Now give yourself a huge pat on the back (and maybe a glass of wine after bedtime) for a job well done.

5. Not just for toddlers

Sure the toddler years see the most frequency of tantrums. It’s easier for our preverbal little ones to become easily frustrated and overwhelmed when they can’t seem to get their point across. However, toddlers aren’t the only ones melting down. Any big transition or major change can send a child of any age back to tantrum territory. Kindergarten anyone?

So there you have 5 truths about tantrums. In my own quest to understand them and deal with them more empathetically, I’ve also written my weekly Dr. Mom column in The Sac Bee about rethinking tantrums: on understanding, coping, and growing.

What are your truths about tantrums?

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8 Responses to Tantrum truths
  1. Missglory
    September 6, 2012 | 12:47 pm

    My daughter just started kindergarten and i’ve been keeping note on your tantrum advice, and YES! after school she is very sensitive and cranky, and little brother does not help, but I’ve been keeping cool, letting her have her moment then chimming in. I just hope im not giving in too much, like lettting her think tantrums are okay? I told her I’m sorry you feel that way, next time I’ll be sure to keep the strawberry icecream on the top of the cone .. lol

    • Melissa
      September 15, 2012 | 8:34 am

      I know, when they have that meltdown it really does seem like the silliest thing set them off (to us anyway). More likely, it’s a buildup throughout the day and that spilled ice cream sent her over her emotional edge.

      Just endured another one myself with my almost 5 year old…end of the day, picking up pizza, and darn if that claw game where your supposed to “get” a stuffed animal didn’t send her over the edge…yowza!

      September is hard…it will get better. Just keep being there, validating feelings, hugging afterwards. You aren’t sending her mixed messages. You’re letting her know it’s okay to feel sad/mad and she’s learning about her own emotions and how to handle them.

  2. Trish
    September 6, 2012 | 12:56 pm

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. As the mom of a 7-year-old and 4-year-old, feel like tantrums should (mostly) be in the past. But I find myself still dealing with them from BOTH of my boys. When my kids were toddlers, it was much easier for me to handle tantrums both physically and emotionally. It seemed normal and to be expected. But now, as they get older and understand the type of behavior that’s not acceptable in our family (and in the world), I have a harder time dealing with that huge flare of emotion. My older boy, in particular, can go throw such a huge attitude, stomping around and yelling “I wish I wasn’t ever born.” “I don’t want to be a part of this family.” I feel like at this point, he should have better control over his emotions, and like we are failing at giving him proper coping mechanisms. And I don’t want to give in or be permissive to these kinds of outbursts, yet I want him to understand it’s ok to feel angry and upset–you just have to learn to deal with it better. I end up feeling angry, and as though I missed an opportunity to help him learn to deal with his feelings. Ack!

    • Melissa
      September 15, 2012 | 8:39 am

      Trish, you didn’t miss an opportunity at all. The tantrum is the opportunity. I know it doesn’t feel that way, but by being there; waiting, then validating feelings and reconnecting afterwards…he is learning that his feelings are okay and that you are there for him. When the storm has passed, reconnect. Tell him you know he was sad/mad but that you are so glad he is your son and part of your family.

      My own daughter just had another major one this week in which she screamed very not nice words at me. It was hard but I know she didn’t mean them. She was mad. Afterward, we talked about it.

      Good luck. I think September is probably the worst month for those back to school tantrums. Rest up this weekend and enjoy some family time :-)

  3. Katherine
    September 8, 2012 | 9:51 pm

    Isn’t this the truth!! I have lately started seeing tantrums again from my 6 year old (just when I thought we were finally past this!). However, I try to keep remember that we are going through a lot of transitions – starting school again, a new baby on the way, some major changes in my work schedule, a new post-school childcare. It would be a lot for anyone, and apparantly, it’s just too much for a particular little boy. Although sometimes understanding them doesn’t always make it easier to cope.

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  5. Lucinda
    September 30, 2012 | 4:03 am

    Reading your blurbs on tantrums helps put my mind at ease. My daughter can (and always has been) emotional & difficult in the evening. It would help if she gave into sleep a little easier, & there are lots of lessons for me in terms of coping skills & patience. As I was reading through the comments, I was reminded of something I read a while ago stating that until kids are 18 (or so) the part of their brain that says “I know the consequences of this action” is overpowered by the impulsive part of the brain that just wants to do it.

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