Tantrums: A Different Approach

The one when the sight of my face was enough to start the toddler tears flowing (I have a similar reaction when I look in the mirror these days).

The one outside the coffee shop, that prompted a sympathetic stranger to rush out and give me an emergency latte.

The one so endless and ground shaking that I had to disguise my tears, pausing at an estate agent’s window as other parents passed us by.

‘£8000 per square metre,’ I sobbed as they quickened their step, ‘it just seems outrageous’.

Our list of memorable tantrums is a long one. Right now they’re a daily occurrence and, although they still trigger fantasies of an invisibility cape with a built-in Chardonnay feature, I have been trying to accept and handle them as best I can. With occasional success.

I wrote recently about using mindfulness to help calm toddler tantrums. It does help. I’m also now learning about the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to meltdowns, and this has had a big impact on the way we view them.

The foundation of Hand in Hand Parenting is building and maintaining a strong connection with your child. To do this they teach various tools, many with a focus on listening in one form or another. Their well-researched belief is that kids use tantrums as a way of unpacking their ‘emotional back pack’; releasing and healing accumulated hurts, frustrations and fears.

Hand in Hand recommend ‘listening’ to your child’s tantrum by remaining as close as possible, gently comforting but not attempting to reason with your child, or to stop the flow of tears. They remind us that our kids aren’t trying to manipulate us or being deliberately naughty: they’re still our good, loving children but are struggling with big feelings and asking for help to deal with them. Unfortunately for us, their requests for help are often loud, embarrassing and inconveniently timed. But no-one said parenting was going to be easy.

For me, the shift towards trying to ‘welcome’ tantrums as a natural healing process came as a relief: I no longer needed to try to stop them. I also kept in mind an old Erma Bombeck quote:

‘A child needs your love most when he deserves it least.’

Ok, I was sold on the theory. But listening to a tantrum in a public place, surrounded by other parents, makes me feel as squirmy as being behind the man in the really short shorts in a yoga class.

It’s tough to resist the pressure to ‘do something’, and to just stay with your child. This is where I’ve found the mindfulness tactics I wrote about previously really useful – namely, putting aside the assumption that any parent within a 5 mile radius has me down as the worst mother ever. Most of us are actually very sympathetic when it comes to watching others have a tough time with their kids; however we choose to handle it.

In the confines of our home we’ve listened to many tantrums recently and have found that certain upsets, particularly those related to a new sibling, are slowly dissipating. Yesterday, the toddler returned after a day’s separation and only cried for a few minutes at the sight of my face (and I wasn’t wearing any make-up). After that she proclaimed, ‘I’m not sad anymore’, and led me to go and find her younger brother.

This felt like a bit of a breakthrough. Since the arrival of her new sibling, the toddler is frequently upset when we reunite after a period of separation. I suspect this is connected to her feelings of hurt and loss at having to share her mummy, and also because she feels safe enough with us to release all those built-up emotions. Either way, we’re making progress, and until someone does invent an invisibility cloak with a built-in Chardonnay feature, we’ll carry on trying to listen as much as we can.

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  • Stephanie Parker
    May 26, 2016

    Beautiful thank you, I felt moved, I smiled and I laughed out loud whilst reading it, So eloquently put!

    • Liz Lowe
      May 26, 2016

      Thanks Steph – and thanks for the support and inspiration!

  • Topfivemum
    July 9, 2016

    Love this. My daughter has been going through temper tantrums since she turned 12 months it seems and I often feel my patience is stretched. At the moment, now 20 months, it feels like she is doing everything in her power to test me. Unable to communicate yet, and not great at really getting what I mean yet either, it’s tough going some days. Whether its changing her nappy, refusing food, stopping to sit on the (dangerous) flight of stairs down from our flat while I have a newborn strapped to my front and a backpack on my back, crying when she can’t get whatever…. You name it, I feel tested.

    I’ve offended wondered about how mindfulness parenting works when it comes to toddler tantrums and you’ve just helped the penny drop. It’s not about NOT having a stress reaction to the situation. It’s about pausing to recognise what I feel and why, and then being able to act on it in a more detached way (at least this is my takeout). I’m going to try some of your approaches and will take interest in how it impacts us both. Thanks for sharing!

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