Sunday, July 3, 2011

Weekly Column: Teaching Tantrums with Tantrums

In my head, I can construct a wonderfully barbed and irate complaint.  I can refute whatever ill-fated conversation set my temper roiling, and I can do it with wit and intelligence.   And plenty of righteous indignation. 
Thankfully, those well-planned rebuttals only come after the fact.  After I’ve had a chance to dwell on the situation long enough to form my angry reply, I’m full of withheld vim and vigor. 
Yes, in my head, I’m a regular arguing queen.
And I’m beginning to notice that what I choose keep inside my head, my three-year-old likes to let loose with at every whim. 
Really, this could be the definition of Three-year-old: child of a certain age who, with some frequency, erupts into righteous indignation; child of vim and vigor. 
But as her parent, it’s my job to help her channel those feelings into acceptable avenues of expression.  To approach her fuming wrath gently and calmly in order to show her that not everything is worth an explosion of rage.  And it’s becoming easier as the months and years pass not to erupt with my own anger in response to hers. 
So imagine her surprise when, the other day, I did erupt.  Her rebellion was enough to tip me out of my gently swaying boat of parenthood, and throw me into a crashing, deafening whirlpool of helplessness. 
Inside my temper tantrum, I expected her to break under my anger.  To halt her own tantrum out of sheer understanding: Well if mom is this mad, I MUST be in the wrong.
The result was the exact opposite.  The more forceful I became, the louder she screamed, the more twisted our expressions became.  We both contributed to the pile of never-ending rage, and one of us had to end it. 
I walked away. 
She kept screaming and kicking the floor, lengthening her tirade into territory I’d never before witnessed.  This was a tantrum of epic proportions, and I couldn’t help but think that it was exacerbated by my example of uncontrolled emotions.  Once she’d had a taste of the argument, she wanted it to continue.
I knew the feeling.
She was expressing the indignation I mentioned above.  The indignation that adults suppress into captured thoughts, because we know that to push the point in anger would be counter-productive.  It’s not that we’ll never discuss the issue which caused us so much internal upset, but that we’ll wait until we’re better able to speak without the cloud of fury obliterating our message.  It’s what we learn about effective communication as we mature, and what our children are still learning.
But since she had seen me air my rage without hesitation, she now felt free to give voice to her own. 
And boy, was it loud.
Eventually, her fire burned out, and we resolved the problem with calm, apologetic words.  I admitted that my yelling and stomping like a territorial gorilla had been the wrong way to speak.  She told me with real words – not banshee screams – what had upset her in the first place. 
I fully expect the next few tantrums to descend into those banshee-like screams, though, because a yelling mother is hard to forget.  It’ll be an uphill battle to help her re-learn how to speak calmly about her anger. 
But if there’s another definition for three-year-olds, it goes like this: child of a certain age, who, with stunning grace, is able to learn with alarming speed; child of joy and worth.


  1. Putting the word grace in the 2nd definition makes it so much better, for kids and adults, huh? Such a beautiful piece of humility and teaching...things we are all going through in life, mo matter what stage. Thanks for sharing (my daughter turned 4 last week and this is all still fresh in our household. :)

  2. Love the way you were able to learn as well as her. And you are so right about the calm words and thoughts.

  3. Yes! Thank you once again for writing about exact situations that take place in my household and putting it in such perspective to learn and move on-everything is a learning experience-even for the parents who aren't perfect either. You are such a wonderful parent. I'm striving to better control my tantrums as well!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?