Dear tuned-in parents,
To begin today’s Tuesday Tune-In, I want to tell you how my morning went. Spoiler: It has nothing to do with music and everything to do with tantrums – a parent’s least favorite sound.
Everything was normal to start. I gave the kids morning hugs – my eldest on the couch, my other son on the floor playing and my daughter in her bed. All was well.
And then something flipped.
Peaceful lapping waves raged into a storm and, yes, a tantrum was brewing.
Listen: Toddler tantrums are not all that different from school-age tantrums. They can look a bit different, with more reasoning available, but they take shape a lot like a toddler kicking and screaming on the floor.
The details are never the important part. Suffice it to say that my son was not getting what he wanted. And I was not prepared to budge in that particular moment. Yelling, door slamming, and aggression, too. And then he found a way to exert his ultimate control -A hunger strike.
So what do we do? Both with our toddlers and with our older kids?
Here’s the simple answer: We give them space to have the tantrum.
Pause for a moment. Let’s consider what this means. I don’t mean we watch them having the tantrum and wait for it to end while we boil inside. I mean we truly give them the space to express their emotions in the only way they can at that moment.
After we’ve tried to reason, emphasize and help; we need to accept.
It helps to remember that tantrums are appropriate.
Our kids are desperately trying to understand how much control they have and where the boundaries are.
They are looking to us to hold up limits so that they can feel safer. They want to know that not everything is possible and that we, their caregivers, will keep them safe.
I always think of the image of a pantomime.
You know how they walk around doing that move with their hands pretending there’s a glass wall. That’s what our babies are doing. Constantly asking: Is this where the wall is?
Parenting educator Janet Lansbury has a way to understand types of tantrums that really resonated with me.
She talks about three types of tantrums for toddlers in her work but I find it fully applicable to even my ten-year-old.
(Because you are all awesome you answered my call for pics of tantrums and delivered big time. So these three types will be accompanied by some real life visuals ala the Tune-iverse.)
Three Types of Tantrums
1. Unarticulated Basic Needs
Overview: The toddler wants something like food water or sleep, but because he is not fully articulate and does not always know to ask for things, he gets to the point where it is too late and now he’s been pushed over the edge. He is too hungry or tired.
Response: In those moments, we empathise and try to give them what they need.
We could say something like: “Wow. I see that you were really hungry and it was hard for you to tell me that.”
I don’t know about you but my big kids definitely get to that point as well – and they can speak just fine.
In this situation, we can try to stay calm by reminding ourselves that it is totally natural for our kids to behave this way when they are in this state.
Of course, we can try to preempt it but every now and then we’ve got places to get to and other kids to tend to and we’re not always able to do that.
2. Unreasonable Wants
Overview: The toddler is in a tantrum where the demands are unreasonable. Perhaps the toddler is trying to break out of the tantrum but is not succeeding. That’s when your toddler wants a particular cup and when you bring it he throws it away and wants a different cup.
Response: In those moments, Lansbury suggests that we breathe and we take care of ourselves. We need to trust that the tantrum needs to happen right now. Our job during the tantrum is to keep our baby safe.
These storms pass when we allow them and when we don’t push back on it or try to fix it. Easier said than done I know.
3. Power Assertions
Overview: This is when we’re setting a limit or we’re saying no to something that we feel is important – whether it’s a safety, educational or health reason. (this is where I was at this morning.)
Response: We stick to our limits during these tantrums.
The important part is not to change our minds because we feel uncomfortable with the screaming and crying.
When we do that we can make them feel that their feelings scare us in some way. We give them the message that we will rescue them from these difficult feelings. In doing that, we teach them that if they push those down, then the boundary might move.
If we can keep our limits and show our children that it is ok to have feelings around it, then we teach them that we think they are safe there.
The bottom line with each of these types of tantrums?
We, as caregivers, need to know that is okay for kids to have them.
It’s okay for them to have difficult emotions. The more we can allow space for it without trying to fix it the more our children will know that it is perfectly safe to have those emotions.
So what happened with my son?
When I picked him up from school, he ran over and gave me a big hug. We embraced for a while.
I said, ”We didn’t get to say goodbye properly.” He said, ”I know. And I regretted it all day.” (Isn’t nice that he is old enough to say that? It is in your future!)
I told him that it is ok that he got angry at me. That I just wanted him to be safe.
We agreed that next time we would try to say goodbye in a nicer way no matter what, even if we are still angry and may need to continue to work it out later.
I told him the bottom line: ‘I love you so much no matter how angry you get, how many doors you slam, and despite the sandwich you left at home.
But let’s work on expressing your anger in a more productive way before you turn into the hulk.’
So you tell me – Do these types resonate with you? which one of them have you survived recently ?
Comment so we can all work through one of the toughest parts of parenting together.
Know anyone struggling with responding to tantrums? Send them this hunger-strike story so they feel less alone. Power to the parents.
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