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Tantrum training

by Arwan Sutan from Unsplash
I'll let you in on a profound insight that changed my life.  Your kids don't need tantrum training but you probably do!

No doubt you have always been shown and told that tantrums are a bad thing. I think you'll come to value them once you see how they can restore your child's good thinking.

In our culture tantrums are perceived as something to squash, something to ignore, something to divert from. The Parenting by Connection perspective provides a very different view.

The human brain is built for connection. From the moment they are born children's brains are hard wired to seek out connection and safety. When they feel warm, loving attention from a caring adult, children thrive. But life isn't always easy on our small people, and even things that seem harmless to us grownups can really upset a baby or a child. A door slamming noisily, or mum going into the next room, can throw your child's sense of connection right out.

When her thinking brain goes offline, trying to restore logic and reason through talking with her simply can't work. Your child is good, and wants to behave well, but when she loses her sense of connection she loses her impulse control and short term memory.

Your child, like children all over the world, has an instinctive healing process that works beautifully to bring her thinking mind back online when she loses her sense of connection. Her body is designed to restore equilibrium in a number of elegant ways - through laughter, sweating, tears, shaking and tantrums. By letting out all those difficult feelings in a tantrum, your child can get back to her good, thinking self. Her rational, logical brain can operate again, unimpeded by a flood of emotions.

If you can stay with her through her tantrum, not trying to change things, fix things or shush her, your child will get to the end of this emotional storm, look up and see that you have been her anchor. You didn't judge, or threaten, or distract. You sat beside her and just let her have her feelings. What a gift! We call this practice of staying with an upset child Staylistening.

Now, it's entirely possible that you are thinking this sounds crazy. In the middle of the shopping centre, sit with my child while she tantrums? Not likely! We do recommend that the first time you try supporting your child in this way you do it at home or in a place you feel very safe and supported. It can be really hard to listen to the depth of feeling your child has, without adding in stares of curiosity (or judgement).

My challenge for you is to give this a try for just five minutes. If you have a toddler, you'll likely be experiencing some regular opportunities to give this a go. If you can make it all the way to the end of her upset, so much the better. But if five minutes is all you have, or all you can give, that's amazing too. Pouring your love in while she pours her upset out makes the space she needs to think well again. The next thing to do is to watch her behaviour afterwards. What happens? Is she kinder to the cat? More connected to you? More able to play independently?

Because you surrounded your child with your loving attention and supported her through her deep upset, you've built your connection and relationship. Experimenting with this approach is absolutely worth it. By staying with your child's big emotions and not trying to change them, you are giving her a wonderful gift, and you'll get something in return - your warm, cooperative, loving little person back again!

Here's how it can work: a story from the book Listen by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore

My six year old twin girls and I were home together one hot summer afternoon, and were looking for something to do. I thought paper crafting would be fun, so I looked up information about making long strings of paper dolls and snowflakes. Why snowflakes? Any cool thought when it's over 108 degrees outside helps.

I traced pictures of boys or girls onto paper, and my daughters would cut them out. We were having a decent time, but after a short while, my daughter was very frustrated. She gets frustrated when she can't learn something as fast as she would lie. Often she gives up entirely, and calls herself stupid. It pains me to watch this bright child give up. I had done some listening time to deal with my own feelings about this, and that was about to pay off.

Cutting the paper dolls wasn't easy, as we had to cut through eight layers of paper. She wanted to do it herself without help, but she couldn't with her kid scissors and small hands. She was so frustrated that she threw the paper doll onto the table and said, "I quit!"

I saw the learning pattern show up, and so instead of trying to make her feel better by conforting her or doing it for her, I stayed calm and waited. She fell on the floor and had a tantrum, hello, crying and showing me how helpless she felt. I Staylistened for ten to fifteen minutes.

As quickly as she began, she stopped. I watched her settle down, and though I was convinced she would feel better, I didn't think she'd go back to the craft after being so upset. 

I was wrong. She came back to the table, asked for the scissors, and went back to cutting the dolls. Not only did she finish that set of paper dolls, she continued making dolls for an hour, and by the time she was done, she'd made a girl, boy, mom, dad and two other strings of paper dolls. I was amazed. And relieved!

She was so proud of herself and her ability to make the dolls after all. And I learned something important. These tools work as promised. I felt empowered to help her. I finally had a way to reach for her when she was shutting down: just listen.


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