Tantrums Don’t Mean You Did Anything Wrong
During a recent consultation, a father came to me for help with this incident:
His 6-year-old daughter was rocking on her chair during dinner. He placed his hand on the chair and said kindly, “Sweetie, I won’t let you rock. You could fall over and bang your head.” He released his hand and she did it again. He told her, “Seems you want to move your body around. If you’d like to leave the table to move a bit, you can. I won’t let you hurt yourself. I am going to let go and if you rock it again, I’m going to remove you from the table so we can take a break. I have a feeling you’ll make a good decision.”
And then the daughter smiled, stopped rocking, and said, “Thanks for your sturdy leadership, dad.”
Actually no. Sorry, that didn’t happen.
Here’s what did: She rocked it again, almost falling over.
The father picked her up; she cried and screamed the whole way out of the kitchen, yelling, “I HATE YOU! YOU ARE THE WORST!”
The father asked me: “What did I do wrong here?”
My answer: NOTHING.
What? How can I tell parents that a night that ended with everyone feeling awful and depleted … was, well, a job well done?
Because this is how childhood works.
This is what happens when people with different wants, needs, feelings, and expectations live together and have to figure things out. This is, actually, what emotion regulation building looks like.
OUR GOOD PARENTING DOES NOT GET REWARDED WITH GOOD BEHAVIOR. Our children’s reactions to our interventions are not a barometer for our impact or effectiveness.
Circuiting children for healthy emotion regulation patterns means *many* instances of holding a boundary – child tantruming – holding boundary and empathizing with underlying feelings. Over and over again.
Are these moments enjoyable? NO! Are they exhausting? ABSOLUTELY! This is one of the inconvenient truths of parenting: it’s hard, messy, and non-linear.
Try This At Home:
Have a mantra ready the next time your child protests. This will help you stay calm yourself, which will help your child absorb some of your calm – i.e., will teach her how to regulate. Tell yourself now, “Tantrums are part of childhood.” When your child melts down, remind yourself, “I did my part – I made a decision that I felt good about. My child happened to tantrum – that’s her, not me. Tantrums are inevitable and are a part of healthy child development. Keep going. Stay the course.”