Decoding the Tantrum & Building Trust

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I’m all for parenting through intuition and going with the flow but I’m also a big believer in lifelong learning and up-skilling through people who’ve experienced things before me. With that in mind, a few months ago we attended Lael Stone’s half-day ‘aware Parenting course’ to learn some new tools to help manage the new scenarios that were emerging slowly but surely in our household with our two and a half year old. I wouldn’t say we were ‘out of control’ by any means but my partner and I just had this nagging feeling that we could be dealing with these two-year old ‘things’ (discipline & tantrums) better… more effectively. We were open to help and suggestions.

One of the key aspects of the course was realising that a tantrum is an emotional release of a build up of tensions. A necessary ‘vent’ for a little mind that’s not yet capable of high level processing. This sounds simple in words but the facilitator had an even better visual reference… she took a wind-up-toy out to demonstrate… she explained how we might wake our kids up to get them ready for childcare (and this ‘winds’ the tension a little), then we ask them to eat breakfast quickly, get dressed (without time for choice, fun and games), ‘winding’ them further, bit by bit, …. then they might attend a day of childcare where there’s a lot of rules and routine, “winding winding winding”… so when a “hit the floor’ tantrum happens at home at 6pm because a piece of sliced cheese has the corner missing it’s really NOT about the cheese… the wind up toy is just rattling it’s way out of the day’s build up of pressure.

When we got home I began observing this and have slowly become a master of decoding a tantrum. Yesterday, I picked up my daughter from childcare and she seemed relatively fine, pointing out all the points of interest on the way home as we do most child-care days… “there’s the scissor shop! (the tailor), there’s the bike shop! There’s the advertising! (billboard).” Half an hour later, when we arrived at our local shopping village she went into full meltdown tantrum, not wanting to get out of the car.. “no no NO!” Tears, kicking, screaming, back arch – the full toddler hulk. The kind where people walking past the car peer in and give you a knowing smile or a judging frown (thank you and f* off, respectively). Previously, I might have engaged some punishing tactic (if we don’t go in we can’t buy dinner then you can’t have dinner) or negotiating (if you come into the shop we can buy a pack of stickers) but instead I just turned and sat at her level, put my hand on her knee, told her I understand…. waited, waited, and asked her if there was anything else making her upset. Through the tears it came, “Lachlan* hit me today… I was on the swing and he wanted to go on and he hit me, and I cried. He got told not to hit me again”. There.

There it is.

*Lachlan is a pseudonym to protect the little one who was probably going through his own day of ‘winding-up!’

So… I’m talking about my two and a half year old here… i might be biased but her ability to express and articulate why she was ‘truly’ upset was a surprise to me. I don’t even know if she knew that was her reason for being upset until we uncovered it together. Remember this is hours after the incident took place which clearly shook her. Had I not given her the time and empathy I would never have known this about her day. I would have found some way to get into the shop, forced, bribed, but it would have been by avoiding the issue not finding it. Instead, after we spoke about it, and spoke about how it’s ok to feel upset, share it and let it pass, I asked her if she wanted to go into the shop now. “Yes please, I want a carrot.” She had released her ‘wind up toy’ of emotion and she was all set to carry on. Complete 180 degree turn. I got out of the driver seat, smiled for that precious 6-seconds of alone time walking outside from the front drivers side around to the back car seat side. I’d just nailed Parenting. I felt an overwhelming sense of… YES. This is how. This is how.

I get we don’t always have time or patience to go beyond the “broken corner of cheese” to the real issues but at the moment I’m experiencing first hand what ‘unpeeling’ the tantrum can achieve. It’s a real thing (no one told me before!… which is why I had to share). I’ve seen all these jokes, lists and memes online about the illogical reasons kids are tantruming… I get it, they ARE illogical reasons because they’re not the real reasons. The tantrum is such a signpost to stop & connect. I didn’t realise.

Importantly, through this process, what I am now building is a relationship where she can trust me with her problems and her feelings. It’s a ‘practice’ but I have a feeling and hope it’s going to set a foundation for her to feel this way as she grows older and her problems become bigger. I get a sense that the work is now for the reward of a deeper relationship later… and that gives me a sense of calm and contentment I didn’t have about the future a few months ago.

Now… if I could only figure out my own tantrums 🙂


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