What is a tantrum?

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Temper tantrums. How many times have we been told that kids stage them to get something they want, that they are trying to manipulate us, and that we should just let them cry and ignore them? I know I have heard that advice before. You know what’s worse? When my first child was about 2, she had her first full-blown tantrum. And I’d just read something of that sort in some mainstream parenting magazine that day, and I ignored her. It was awful, I knew in my heart I was doing something wrong because she just wouldn’t stop screaming and wouldn’t get up. At some point I had enough and finally picked my child up, because clearly this terrible advice wasn’t working, and my kid didn’t look like someone trying to prove some weird point. My poor daughter was having a problem and I was feeling helpless. I needed to find a different way of dealing with it. And that was the day I started researching alternative parenting methods you don’t find in mainstream magazines, and that day I discovered Positive Parenting. That tantrum was a wake up call for me, and I am so happy I listened to my inner voice and not that stupid magazine. I think that was also the day I stopped reading those altogether.

Here is how I see it. A child who cannot even speak or express his thoughts is unlikely to be so cunning and creative in his manipulating techniques to come up with such an elaborate scenario to blackmail his parents. I am just not buying it. That is why it is so important to understand what tantrums are about. They are the only way a child in distress is trying to communicate his feelings to you. He can’t talk, he can’t explain, he is not rational enough to sit down and have a calm interaction with you. All he can do is try to get your attention to finally help him. The best way to do it when you’re a kid? Yep, scream and cry. I mean, it worked when he was a baby and you would respond to his cries (hopefully), so this is the only sure way he knows to get you to once he needs you. And it is so sad that so many of us get the worst advice and ignore these cries for help. We should be told to pick our kids up, hug them, try to calm them down, and then figure out what went wrong and how you can prevent it next time. For all you know your kid is exhausted and needs a nap, or too overstimulated in public by all the noise and lights and colors, or just plain thirsty and hungry. Really, sometimes all it takes is picking up your kid, letting him know you’re there for him, and chances are this tantrum will be over that very second.

Do my kids have tantrums? No, they don’t. Not because they are perfect kids, but because I learned to read the signs. They have moments when they get stressed and cry, but I either try to see these storms coming and intervene before they start, or offer my support and try to figure out how we can change the situation to help them calm down. And if I wouldn’t do any of these? I am sure we would end up with what our society considers a full-blown tantrum. But why wait when you can act before it starts? Little love and understanding goes a long way. Try it.

Photo: Eric Parker (Flickr)

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