Sunday, December 6, 2009

Who is out of control?

A thought for the day on tantrums - as a few people have asked me about this lately. Many people think that a child who does not have tantrums must somehow be happier or more secure. Parents absolutely dread their child having a tantrum in public. Children who have tantrums are often tutted at, what unacceptable behaviour! The mother who drags the tantruming child screaming out of the room (yes I have done it too) is, however, often sympathised with and considered absolutely right in her actions. The lack of empathy for a tantruming child in a public space often makes us parents respond wrongly simply because we know that all everyone wants is for that child to shut up, and we feel those judgments flying in our direction. We prioritise pleasing the crowd and getting the hell out of there fast, meanwhile increasing the already toxic levels of the stress hormone cortisone flooding our child's brain. If only we were able to accept and understand that tantrums happen, and for a reason, then maybe we would all be able breathe and smile and be supportive as the parent and child work together to find ways to calm down.
I absolutely believe that tantrums are normal and a sign that the child has a strong will that is alive and kicking. If we look at the five minutes before a tantrum starts we can often easily see how right and understandable the tantrum response was and how we can try to prevent it in the future. Imagine we could not express in words what we wanted to achieve and when we tried to no one understood or everything went wrong. Imagine we were whisked up from a game we were playing and undressed and plopped in the bath without prior warning. Imagine we desperately wanted to wear our green t shirt over our red dress but were not allowed out of the house until we had changed.

When we put ourselves in our children's shoes, trying to remember how small and 'about me' their world is, a tantrum almost always seems easier to understand and less likely to make us angry in our response. And maybe we will see that while some tantrums are beyond our control and will always occur at some point - one child snatching a toy from another - others are quite clearly of our own making.

I very recently witnessed a 4 year old boy playing with my daughters very sweetly. Something happened which I did not see - I think he did not come when his dad asked him to but perhaps he snatched something from someone, I am not sure. But what was a peaceful scene of kids playing one moment turned into a horrible scene of anger. Guess what happened? The dad had a tantrum!

The boy was smacked on the bottom and dragged off screaming and kicking and thrown in the car. So upsetting to watch. I wanted nothing more than to ask the dad to stop and think. (Actually I would quite liked to have sent him to the naughty step but I don't believe in them. At least not for children.) How he would have felt to have been humiliated and physically hurt in front of his friends and then banished without the chance to say goodbye. I could just imagine the feelings of injustice and lack of control flooding the little boy's brain as he sat crying in the car.

How can we expect our kids to have control over their behaviour when a parent has no control of his own? I was ready to tell him: "You have just violated your child". But he was gone too fast. He might have replied that I had no right to tell him how to treat his own child. Of course I think I do. His child is not a possession but a person with the right to be defended.

It is appropriate for a child to have a tantrum; just not a parent. And if children have a safe space to express their will, without suppression, but with support and love and help to process deep feelings, and gentle boundaries when appropriate, both parent and child can learn from each experience and both will be stronger and more emotionally aware as a result.

Here is what I wrote a good while back about tantrums to help us know how to deal with them and how to distinguish between those that need attention and holding and those that need to be ignored or gently but firmly handled. And here is another you might like.

If we act with an open heart and with humility our children will blossom in our light and love. Good luck


gayle said...

so true and beautifully written.


Georgie said...

Ah Gayle, thank you. That means a lot. Very special comment to receive. See you really quite soon! xxxx

Hana B said...

Treats for me all round on today's visit!

Beautifully apt blog.
We've had loads of visitors recently and H has been a horror on occasions (due mostly to my v divided attention), but ever since my M-i-Law branded his emotional outbursts abnormal and 'so embarrassing when all the Thai kids are so perfect' (deep breath!) I decided just to concentrate on him. And do you know what, no more tantrums.

So he is just two and he needs his mummy.

In this spirit of sharing/steam-letting, I was also helped by your own tantrum teachings in the First Breath blog. We are learning all the time...