Saturday, February 11, 2012

An Alternative View of Tantrums and Emotional Upsets

I've been working on the part of my book about nurturing relationships.

Honestly, I found myself feeling kind of stumped. I've found that life circumstances sometimes create irony and laugh in the face of a writer trying to explore a particular topic. I've been blessed with a feeling of doubt- that I have no idea what I'm actually trying to say. Seriously. I've stared at this part of the book for days and days now and it was supposed to be finished last week.

And then, often, an opportunity arises to explore it deeply. Tonight, I had a moment where it all came together for me. Nurturing relationships is about taking the time and making the space for connection. Not just being in the same room or not interrupting. But connecting heart to heart.

It seems like a "duh" moment. Like I really didn't need nearly 40 years on the planet, 18+ years of schooling, and nearly 20 years working with families to come up with that.

But bear with me.


Nurturing relationships means moving in closer when others might back away.

Like when your child is having a tantrum on the floor.

Or your spouse had a hard day.

It seems that many well-intentioned parents are trying to remain calm in the face of that tantrum. Somehow, we've got the idea that if we just stay happy or make it look like we've got it all together, our children will pull it together and we'll all get back to eating our soup or having a fun day at the park.

And add to that the "expert" chatter. We've been advised to ignore tantrums. We've been told to put our children in time-out. And if we're really trying to do something different, we might talk to them and mirror back what they're saying.

Or we try to fix it for them. Or give them what they say they want.

But what do they really need?

Connection. Deep, someone gets me, and feels it, too, connection.

They need to know that someone gets it. That someone gets them and feels it with them. That they aren't alone with the sadness, the anger, the frustration.

I'd go so far as to say that what your child needs, in essence, is the same thing you need when you're upset.

Tonight, I was upset. I was upset about times in the past when I've been alone with deep, painful emotions. With grief and loss. Add in some abandonment and rejection layered like a thick, heavy wet blanket and you've probably got the idea. Those painful circumstances are in the past, but the pain surfacing for me was very real.

Recently, I attended Adventures in Intimacy with my husband. This is an amazing weekend with Hedy and Yumi Schleifer of www.hedyyumi.com where they teach couples how to deeply connect with one another using a technique called Crossing the Bridge. When you "Cross the Bridge," you leave your own world on a shelf and come to visit the world of your partner. As the visiting partner, you repeat back what you hear your partner saying and ask, "Have I got you?" to make sure you heard and felt what they said.



As we crossed the bridge tonight, I felt seen and heard and felt. My husband can't make the losses of the past different, but he can be here for me now. I felt my body relax. Something really important happened for me in the space of our connection.

And this is what our children need from us, as well.

If you were upset and your partner or a friend came over and ignored you, tried to put you in time-out, or just repeated back the words you were saying in a monotone, you might become very upset. You'd probably have some words for your partner or friend about how you need someone to understand. You need someone to get you, not make it worse by creating a mosh of feelings including abandonment (leaving physically or emotionally) and/or rejection, even if that isn't their intention.

Think of someone you feel supports you- maybe a good friend or perhaps your partner. What does this person do? Do they try to fix it? Give you a solution? Send you away? Hang up the phone until you can calm yourself down? No.

Someone who supports you probably notices how you're feeling and stops what they're doing to be with you. This is someone who wants you to tell them more. To keep going. Who will help hold space for the tears, the anger, the frustration.

But adults are different, you may be thinking. They can at least tell us why they're upset!

True. Kids can't always tell us what they're upset about. Even if they're verbal, they may not know what's bothering them or be able to explain it in a way that someone can understand, either in the moment of the upset or later. Part of that is maturity. And part of it is the way the brain is wired. There aren't always words. If you've ever sobbed in someone's arms and not said a word, you know what I'm talking about here.

But we want to understand what is happening with them. If we don't understand WHY our child is upset, we tend to have less compassion. We feel like he just needs to get over it. And we push against our children to try to get them to straighten up and behave themselves.

Consider for a moment how frustrating it is sometimes to have a 2 year-old. All the hazards- busy streets, light sockets, hearing "no" at inconvenient times, not being on your own time table, but instead on the time table of someone who is completely focused on the centipede crawling down the sidewalk instead of getting into the car.  Now put yourself in the shoes of your child. Just feel what it must be like to be 2 and not be able to do all the things you want to do, go where you want to go, etc. It must be frustrating.

And this is just normal 2 year old stuff. This isn't thinking about other big things that may be happening in your child's life. (The grandma who just died, the tension in the home from her parent's stressful marriage, etc.) Put yourself in your child's shoes and feel that. That's enough. When you can feel it, too, there will be a connection.

And that's all your child is really needing in that moment. When we connect- truly, deeply connect- there is a shift in our child. Maybe his crying changes to a whimpering. Maybe she crawls into your lap. That's how you know you've connected.


I'll never forget a session with a mom, Brenda, and her 18 month-old daughter, Raina. Raina started screaming during our session when Brenda set a limit about nursing. This was one of those ear-piercing shrieks where you know you're either going deaf or it must stop. Brenda was doing a great job of holding the space for her daughter's feelings, but she wasn't connecting with her. Raina sat on the other side of the room and Brenda was using a gentle tone of voice. Between her daughter's screams, I asked Brenda how it felt for her to need to wean Raina and the tears began to fall. I suggested she tell Raina how hard it was for her (the mom) and that she knows it must be hard for her daughter, too.

As Brenda cried, Raina crawled up into her mother's lap in a cradle position (something she normally didn't do unless she was going to nurse) and cried a really sad cry. They cried together as mom softly talked about how hard it has been for both of them. And then, after about 5 or 10 minutes, Raina fell into a deep sleep in her mom's arms. Instead of the tantrum ending in more frustration for everyone and more disconnection, they understood one another. And they connected deeply in that space.


Children aren't trying to make our lives difficult with all their emotional expressions. They're trying to get support. They're trying to connect. And when we do connect with them, everything changes. They don't need to explode to get our attention. And if they do, we might have an idea of what to do to support them. A need when met will go away. A need unmet is here to stay.

Meet the need underlying the behavior and the behavior will not need to be there anymore.

It is all about connection, isn't it? That's what we're all looking for.



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  Rebecca is the author of The Consciously Parenting book series. She offers consultations via Skype to families around the world. Book 3, Nurturing Connection, is now available.

61 comments:

Rozy said...

Excellent excellent and excellent- superbly well put!
My daughter manifests injuries and trips to the hospital when a need of hers is not being met. Now I have to ask, is it my need she is expressing?
As an 11 yr old she is somwhere between acting out my stuff and acting out hers.
I will be giving the bridge a go and we shall see where it leads!
Thankyou

Carrie said...

Beautiful dear Rebecca. Thank you so much for your wise words.

MarcManieri said...

this was expertly expressed, and a great learning/reminder for me. thanks for the wisdom

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Rozy, thanks so much for your comment. I can't wait to hear how it goes with the bridge with your daughter. Please do let me know!
Rebecca

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Thank you, dear Carrie. :-)

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your kind words, Marc. All the best to you.
Rebecca

Ariel said...

Wow. Thank you. I maybe subconciously knew this but hadn't ever really made a true connection with it. Thanks for bringing it out into the concious so that I can better work with my 17 month old.

Alexi Buchanan said...

This is a great article. I could not agree more!
But one thing is bothering me... If it was so painful for Brenda to wean Raina, why do it in the first place? To me, if they were connecting with one another, then the entire situation could have been avoided. One thing maybe you failed to mention was connecting in the first place, not just "treating the symptoms" and connecting after the fact. I think the breastfeeding part just struck s nerve because I do not believe in parent led (which is really society led) weaning.

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Hi, Alexi.

That's a great question. This mama had some extensive health issues going on and she had decided, with the support of her holistic health care providers, that she needed to wean so she could follow the treatments she needed. Her intention had originally been to allow her daughter to wean herself, but that wasn't meeting everyone's needs.

I am all for extended breastfeeding. As a LLL leader, I supported many, many moms to nurse as long as it was mutually agreeable. I am well versed in care that protects the mother-baby nursing relationship and often counseled mothers to continue to search for treatments that respected breastfeeding if their first (or second or third) opinion suggested weaning (or even pumping and dumping). When it wasn't mutually agreeable or there were other factors present, it is important that parents find a way to transition both themselves and the child in a way that is respectful and creates more connection, rather than it being one more disconnection or the first very big one.

My second son weaned himself, but my first son was weaned at 2 1/2 due to a medical issue with me. I wish that I had known how to support us both through this difficult and necessary transition. In my case, it wasn't what I wanted, either, but it became necessary for my health. It would have made a huge difference in our relationship had I known how important it was for both of us to grieve this loss together. It was the first in a series of losses that occurred over the next year or so in my family and it would have been so helpful had we known how to connect during the first one.

This particular story is about breastfeeding, but it can be applied to any situation in parenting where additional understanding and connection are needed.

Warmly,
Rebecca

Haley said...

This is so wonderful! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I always knew that ignoring a child was wrong, but now I can put into words why. Thank you!

rvtwitch said...

You sort of said this - but; connecting in this way works just as well with adults - and even teenagers! Thanks for verbalizing it so well.

Amber Beauchamp said...

I can't wait to try this! My 6 year old son has some massive behavioral issues, he is in counseling and we have tried ever parenting style thrown at us, it's litteraly gotten to the point that I can't relate to him and i don't' even want to be around him anymore because he intentionally hurts people, both emotionally and physically. I've tried to keep calm, with sweet talking while he is screaming in my face which he would just scream over me, and currently we are experiencing about 4-5 huge blow ups a day. I've never met another kindergardner that was sent to the principles office over 10 times. He always explodes at people and tells them he hates them and wishes they were never born, it's his go to phrase. He's asleep at the moment but I know the next battle will be in the morning, as it is every school day. When he screams about having to get dressed and about me not having the right flavor of oatmeal....then whines the entire way to school in the most annoying way possible. My biggest concern with trying this is how do I find a connection to his feelings when he is exploding about the small stuff?

Dontspraymebro said...

Hi Amber B. Read your comment and God bless you! It is tough! What struck me when reading your comment was his diet. A lot of times getting away from sugar and food dyes can eliminate outbursts of rage.

Courtney Dennis said...

You said we should meet the underlying need and the behavior for that need will go away... But what if the need is something that isn't necessary and the child is just trying to get his way?
I have an almost 4 year old boy and the other night while checking out at the grocery store he threw a fit because he wanted to sit in the bigger part of the basket but I needed to put all of the bagged groceries in the basket. If i had met his need he would have stopped throwing a fit but then I feel like I am just giving in to him and giving him whatever he wants. What would I do in a situation like that?

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Haley, Those words to explain what we FEEL are often elusive. It is always nice when the two come together and we're validated for the way we feel. Thanks for reading and commenting! :-)
Warmly,
Rebecca

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

rvtwitch,
Absolutely! This works really well with adults and teens, too. We're all really looking for the same thing: connection. I'll be writing more about connecting with teens and adults in future posts, so stay tuned! Thanks for your comment!

Warmly,
Rebecca

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Amber,

My heart goes out to you and your son. Many of my clients have similar situations and I write about my own personal situation with my oldest son in my first book. So I get it and I feel it with you. <3

You asked how you can connect with him when he keeps exploding about the small stuff. I just did a phone consult yesterday with a mom (who happens to also have a 6 year old) who was saying the same thing. (Oh and another mom today who said the same thing...) The small stuff is where he is letting off steam. He's overwhelmed and doesn't know how to verbalize it, so he can't tie his shoes and falls apart and starts throwing things (you know what I mean here, I hope...). We actually have more of a chance to connect BEFORE he falls into a million pieces or when it is over something small. When we can really connect with his underlying feelings (under what seems to be anger is often sadness, for example), he feels seen, heard, and felt. This is what he really needs. When he feels like someone is totally there for him, it will diminish. I'm also wondering what the source of his overwhelm is- what need is underlying all of this. I'm happy to do a free consult with you to see if I can point you in the right direction. Just email me at rebecca @ consciouslyparenting.com (no spaces) and we can find a time that works. From one mom who struggled to another (who got help from people who just saw my need), I love to pay it forward.

I also agree with Dontspraymebro about diet. It can certainly exasperate symptoms like that in children who are already struggling.

I'd love to hear how it goes when you try what I suggest. Same for anyone else who is reading this. What happened when you took these ideas into your home where the rubber meets the road? I'd love to hear.

Warmly,
Rebecca

Britt said...

I love this article. After reading it I realized I already did this at times, but never understood why it worked. Now that I know, I cam be better at using it. I do wonder, as Courtney did, about the times when the child's need is not necessary?

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Hi, Courtney,

Thanks for your question. It's a great one.

"You said we should meet the underlying need and the behavior for that need will go away... But what if the need is something that isn't necessary and the child is just trying to get his way?"

There is a difference between a need and a want. A want is what you're describing with the grocery cart. A need in this situation might be the need for choice (you may walk next to the cart and hold my hand or I can carry you), the need for connection (this place is overwhelming to me with all the lights, sounds, sights and I need to be closer to you when we're in the store- thus wanting to be in the cart higher and closer to you, for example), or perhaps the need for your emotional presence (I see you right now and I'm going to stop what I'm doing for a minute to really see and hear you because there's a lot going on and you're feeling tired, for example.) His strategy for meeting the underlying need (subconsciously- he doesn't know what he's really trying to do) is to be in the cart. It comes across as demanding and unreasonable, but part of that is because it isn't a need for him and he doesn't know how to express his real need.

NVC (non-violent communication) discusses this idea of needs vs strategies. I did a free teleseminar with Stephanie Mattei, PhD about this very topic, if you want to hear more. http://www.consciouslyparenting.com/teleseminars/NVC1.php

So, looking for the underlying need and meeting that isn't about letting a child do whatever they want. Ask yourself what the underlying need might be and address that. Allow room for the feelings (so hard to do when you're in public, I know...) when your child is disappointed about the limit. Move in closer. Slow everything down for a few minutes.

Does that help?

Warmly,
Rebecca

Paige said...

Thank you for sharing the story at the end. It captured so well the bittersweet moments of parenting. I hate ignoring tantrums.

PL said...

Such a great article and so many great comments and questions - a great discussion all around!
I also find impactful connections are made when I stop what I am doing and attend to my children in their moment of need, and it truly is a time of need.
When my daughter was younger and upset (screaming, angry, yelling and crying full-blown tantrum), she would go in her room and close/slam the door. I would sit outside her room and wait for her. She would occasionally peek it to see if I was still there (saying nothing, no eye contact, just waiting). Eventually, she would come out, and snuggle in my lap. I was able to be there for her, and acknowledge her feelings and move on without my getting angry with her. It was truly better for for all of us.
Now, years later the need seems to be the same: feeling supported and acknowledged. In the moments when I am actually in the middle of something and have to delay my giving my attention to the need, it seems to get worse before it gets better.
Thanks for providing this opportunity to share!

Jess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jess said...

What a wise, wise woman! Thank you for saying everything I was thinking, everything true to my heart. I am a full time stepmother to 3 boys with severe attachment issues and we have really worked on these very same principles over the past year with wonderful, fulfilling and everlasting results. With this new knowledge and wisdom I have been exploring my own issues surrounding rejection and attachment. I recognize where this comes from and I am going to be so much more in tune and understanding with the little one growing inside me as I write this. Not that my own mother was wrong, she was following the 'ignore a tantrum advice', as I used to do with my stepsons, and in my role as a children's nanny but what you have said and what I have been putting into practice this past year is so simplistic and makes so much sense. It is real to me. Thank you again!

abitofbuddha said...

thank you for this! so amazing :)

Heather said...

that was beautiful. we have been going through this with our 3 year old and really just listening more and hugging more. sometimes you just need a hug.

Muntz Twins said...

This was a great piece of information for me since I've been going through some hard times with my 3-yr-old son. He takes all of his anger and frustration out on his 1-yr-old twin brothers and it's been the hardest thing trying to understand why. At least now I know that I need to be there for and connect with him to understand WHY he's so upset with them instead of getting angry at him for being aggressive with his brothers. I hope this is going to help us! Thanks! :)

Mrs L said...

Hi Rebecca, just one question: how would you advise me go about this with my 8 year old son mid-outburst when I have my (very attached!) 2.5 year old daughter with me?

Her attachment is somewhat part of the cause, he deeply resents her coming along as he now has to share me. I have CFS/ME and all too often by the time hubby arrives home from work I'm so exhausted it's all I can do to throw together a bit of dinner for the kids. This is a never ending source of upset and frustration for both my son and I. I have slowly come to terms with a lot of the limitations of my condition since my diagnosis a year ago but how do you explain the fact that it's more than just being tired to your babies? It's such a tough juggling act.

I really want my son to foster a better relationship with his sister but don't know how to facilitate this, he has little or no interest in teaching her about 'things' they might have in common and he doesn't seem to accept that he already had 5 unadulterated years of not sharing mummy time before his sister came along . I try to involve them in joint activities wherever possible but it can be a mammoth task that totally wipes me out for the rest of the day, even if it is just something like den building or play doh.

I don't want my children growing up feeling that either of them WEREN'T my favourite, they both have an equally special place in my heart and I just don't know what to do with these angry, frustrated raging outbursts.

Thanks for listening Rebecca,

Lara

Jolene Lake said...

I know that everyone is going to hate me for this but you are wrong. Let me explain...i have been both a girlfriend and a mother. I understand your point about you as an adult needing comfort the only problem with that anylasis
Is that as an adult when you get upset you dont scream and throw yourself on the floor. The reason you dont do that is because you have learned that kind of behavior is unacceptable. If you resppnd to your childs tantrums by paying attention to them two things happen first the child learns that they control the situation and second that they are not strong enough to comfort themselves.
To illustrate this point for you i had an ex boyfriend who liked to have his back scratched when we went to sleep. This seemed sweet until i was with him for like a year. I found out that his mom would scratch his back every time he got upset. This is similar to what you are suggesting for people to do. Ill tell you IT IS ANNOYING. He had no abilty to self comfort and expected me to comfort him all the time. Mothers like you dont think about the future woman that will have to reap the "ahem" benifets of attachment parenting. IM TIRED I WANNA GO TO SLEEP DONT CODDLE UR BOYS THEIR FUTURE GIRLFRIENDS ARE BEGGING U !!!! Let them cry it out sometimes i dont want to have to b his mommy for the rest of his life because u didnt want to hear him cry.

Mrs L said...

Jolene, sounds to me like you need to find yourself a different partner whose needs are more compatible with yours. Gentle attached parenting styles usually foster more loving, less emotionally needy children than those left to cry it out. Do the research, you'll see.

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Thank you so much for your comments, Paige, Jess, and Heather.

PL, I LOVED hearing the story you shared. Thank you!

Muntz Twins, I would love to hear what happens next as you begin to try some new things. I hope you'll let us know what happens.

Warmly,
Rebecca

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Mrs. L,
Thank you for your question. It sounds like there is a lot going on in your family and only part of it may actually be about his sister. This is one of those situations with your health that you cannot change, but you can talk to both of your kids about what this is like for you and what this must be like for them. Giving space for the feelings to come out BEFORE they are just overwhelming and can't be contained anymore by talking about what is happening.

When his need to be seen and heard for what this is like for him has been met, you might see a big difference in his relationship with his sister, too. Telling early stories about what things were like when he was a baby can be a good start for creating additional connection and then telling the story of when his sister was born can also help, especially if you tell it with both your children together. But really, telling the story of when you got sick and what things were like before and how you FEEL and how they must FEEL is essential to shifting what is happening. Mid-upset is a difficult place to start from or to describe how to make the shift right then, especially in an email. But those are things that you can do that can help to prevent or reduce the intensity when there is space for the cause of those overwhelming feelings to come out in a safe venue, preferably when you have someone else there with you to support you, like your husband.

I would be happy to do a free 30 minute consult with you to see if I can understand more about what is happening in your family and support you on your next steps. Feel free to contact me at rebecca @ consciouslyparenting . com (without spaces) if you'd like a little more support.

Thanks for reaching out!
Warmly,
Rebecca

Mrs L said...

Thanks Rebecca, have shown this to my husband tonight and we will take on board all your comments and see where we need to go next. Either way we will be in touch. Thanks so much for taking the time to consider this and reply, be well x

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Hi Jolene,

I'm really glad that you posted and shared your experience. I'd like to clarify what I'm talking about.

When you are describing your ex-boyfriend who's mother would rub his back when he was upset and who expected you to do the same every night, that isn't the need. He wanted his back rubbed and he had learned that he could avoid his feelings that way.

What I'm suggesting is that the feelings need to be felt and it isn't our job to stop them. We can be with someone when they are upset, but it isn't our job as girlfriend or wife to enable bad behavior, but to be a partner to help each other grow up. See Hedy Schleifer's work for more information on that topic, if you're interested.

We learn one of two ways. The first way, and the way most of us "learned" things when we were growing up was by punishment or withdrawal of love or by shock. We learn that our needs and feelings aren't OK when the person we are depending upon pulls away or punishes us when we express. So we learn that it isn't ok to do that. As a result, we end up with physical illnesses in adulthood from repressing our feelings. Or we have unmet needs that continue on into adulthood (like your ex-boyfriend) and not know how to move through feelings. We learn to move through them WITH support, not by having someone shut them down for us. As our children grow, they don't need the same kind of support if they have had their NEEDS met in this regard.

That said, we do need to teach our children appropriate behaviors. What I'm suggesting, based upon what we understand about how our brain actually works, is that when we can respond to our children when they are upset (and also, really, when they're NOT upset) and meet the needs they have for connection (which isn't the same for enabling bad behavior), our children learn to calm down in connection (the way we're wired) so that they can learn how to calm themselves when they are biologically ready to do so. (Most children can begin to self-regulate by the time they're about 2 1/2 when the part of the brain responsible for that matures, but we can give them small experiences of us being nearby during this time, as well.) As they grow, we can talk to them and role play with them after they're calm again what is the appropriate behavior. As they develop those "muscles," they'll be able to use those skills earlier in their upsets. I also like to teach children their own early signs of dysregulation and what they can do to help themselves.

I'm going to continue this in the next comment. I'm a bit too long winded for one... :-)

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

I also want to add that my expectations of my 9 year old are very different than they were when he was 5 or 2. What I see is that, because I have met his needs for comfort when he is upset, he is able to be in other environments (school, for example) and calm himself. As he has learned how to regulate in connection, he has learned what he needs when he's upset and that doesn't mean that he needs me all the time anymore. In reality, I'm raising an emotionally sensitive boy who will grow up to be an emotionally sensitive man. Not a dependent or co-dependent man-child who is still trying to get his early childhood emotional needs met and learn how to navigate his feelings in relationships. Or not.

When I set a limit with my son now, he sometimes is disappointed and occasionally he lapses into bad form, but he recovers very quickly and repairs the mistake with little prompting from me. His outbursts are short, if at all, and he is able to shift fairly easily unless he is very overwhelmed. And this is from responding to him and not ignoring him.

Yes, our boys need the space to cry. But crying alone in a room because someone doesn't want to listen to it doesn't create emotional maturity. Cry it out activates the fight, flight, or freeze response and that has the opposite effect. Sometimes those children look more independent, but they're really just shut down and need someone to continue to soothe them because they lack the skills to navigate their feelings. And that isn't maturity at all.

The reality is that we are all interdependent. We need each other from the time we are born to the time we die. And research has shown over and over again that having early NEEDS met helps children to be much more independent in the long run. Needs are different than wants and that is often confused, especially among attached parents (myself included in that for a long time!). I'll be writing some more about needs vs wants, since it keeps coming up in discussion.

Thank you for posting your comment and for allowing me to clarify what I'm talking about.

Warmly,
Rebecca

steffydee said...

This article really changed my outlook on my two year old daughter, I think it could very well be life changing for both of us for the better. Thank you... Stefanie

Teila Thomsen said...

I've always thought that! Great post! I'll def use all this information for my future child <3

Kat said...

I agree with this when it comes to crying as a result of something being wrong. But a real tantrum isn't about being upset about something - it's a child's inability to deal with the complexity of the emotions and the world around them....in which case 1) there isn't something you can connect to and 2) there isn't much you can do since it's usually when the child is hungry/very tired. In that case, i think it's best to do what works for that particular child. Ours is very sensitive and does not like for others to be there, so we gently tell her she can come down on her own which she usually does.

Kristina Gladu said...

This post is absolutely amazing and seems so true. I have 3 little ones, 8 1/2, 3 1/2 and 20 months. Boy, boy, girl. My oldest son was an only child for 5 years and had and still does have a very difficult time accepting he is a big brother and no longer my only. He is always having outbursts and tantrums and saying that I love the younger ones more because I am always doing things for them. I have always tried to understand his feelings with this, and frequently explain that i HAVE to do all this for the younger ones because they are to young to do it themselves, but yet it never seems to come out the best way for him to understand it. He has also been diagnosed with ADHD, and ODD. I do not want to medicate him, but there are times when I just feel as though I don't know what to do anymore!!!! He also loves to tell me and others that he is upset with that he wishes they weren't born and the famous "I hate you" and I dis like the word "hate" so much! I feel as though he knows it bothers me, so he uses it more!!! Now I am beginning to experience this behavior with my 3 1/2 year old son, who is watching every thing his big brother does, and I am totally at a loss. I am at my ends with my oldest son, no way I can bare gong through this from age 3 on!!! I would appreciate any and all help and support! And I will most definitely be giving this a go in our home!!! Having your feelings validated really does make a world of difference, so thankful I came across this!!!! Thank You, Rebecca!!!

Tantrums galore said...

Wow. I've really been needing this. It can be such a struggle with my children somedays, but now I can try to understand them. Thank you for these life giving words.

AmandaAileen said...

I LOVE this. One of the things that came to mind as I was reading it (and probably because I am a person who feels affection/connection the most when it is presented physically) Is how posturing yourself to meet the level of the child can help to foster that connection. It might be something some would instinctively do but I've seen others fail at comforting/connecting because they were still above the child. The examples with the grocery cart (needing to be close) and the original story where Mom and baby ended up cuddling are great! I had a great experience helping a family get through a tantrum from a child with autism doing this, I crouched down to her eye level and recognized that she must be sad about dropping the last bite of her donut(It really is the little things sometimes!). She talked through it with me and ended up snuggling and wanting to go back to sit with me, the family was so tired (raising a child with autism is a lot of work!) and grateful.

Babbles said...

I WISH I had read this 30 years ago when I was raising my children! What a difference this insight would have made in how I handled and UNDERSTOOD my children's tantrums or upsets! Passing this on to my Children so they have this insight for our grandchildren!

c.nutter86 said...

Wow this is amazing I guess I never looked at it from this point of view before how difficult it would be to know what hurts and what you want and not be able to express yourself in ways others understand gonna definitely try this out on Natalee who's two and see how it goes thanks so much for the insight

bmiller said...

VERY well said. That is why one of my favorite sayings (I think by Sigmund Freud) is:
"It's not attention the child is seeking, it's love."

Very fitting. Very true.

Thank you so much.

Emily Park said...

Well put. Thank you - found on pintrest and going to share!

Missy said...

So thankful to have found this...we have a 5 year old and struggle greatly with knowing how to respond to her outbursts. She was adopted at 2 months and her birth mother was on very strong medications throughout pregnancy. I struggle to know what is "normal" vs what is attachment issue, and I know that it doesn't really matter, what matters is how I react to it. Looking forward to reading more.

Amy said...

I found this on Pinterest and I'm glad I did. I loved reading the comments because after reading the post I felt confused. I want to connect more with all my children but HOW? I have a 4 yr, 19 mo, and 3 mo old and we have a lot of healing to do. My 4 y/o internalizes everything. He is very obedient, he never acts out and is the most non aggressive child in this world. He has his moments but for the most part he is a very "easy" child.

After I had my 19 m/o I had severe PPD which was intensified by getting pregnant again just a few months later.

My poor sensitive boy! I was so sick. I yelled, I screamed, I cried, I said very sad things when he could hear me. My poor baby boy! I was so sick, I screamed at him for crying (he cried all day and never slept), I was frustrated all the time and very angry and I know my little baby could feel it. I'm sure they both felt like it was all their fault. My poor baby girl was growing inside of a very sick mom. I didn't want her, I was angry, SO ANGRY that I got pregnant with her when I was preventing pregnancy with 3 different methods. I know she could feel that resentment while she was inside of me.

Thank goodness for God's healing grace and for placenta pills because my daughter is now 3 m/o and I am doing so much better. No more PPD but my whole family suffered for over a year with a very very sick mom.

Sometimes I think about all the damage that was done and wonder if I'll ever be able to teach my children the truth. That they are beautiful, special, wonderful, good, kind, important, fun, appreciated and LOVED - oh so LOVED!!! Will they ever forgive me? Will they ever be able to overcome the effects that PPD had on our family?

My 4 y/o still gets scared if I get upset in the slightest bit. My 19 m/o still cries A LOT (which is very hard for everyone) and is much more aggressive than big brother. He throws things, hits, throws himself around etc. Baby girl is pretty happy and calm. Do you have advice on where to start? I've only very recently stopped having people in the home with me (I was VERY sick, and was constantly afraid I would hurt myself or my children) so we are just getting back into a normal routine. What can I do to "unteach" all they learned this past year? I feel so overwhelmed

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Thanks for your comment, Amy. It sounds like all of you have had a rough ride. You all have been through a lot together and guess what?! You'll heal together, too. First, you have to forgive yourself. You did the best you could do and you all survived it. That's something and it is important or we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. Second, it is very possible to heal this. I want you to hear HOPE. I have seen families with similar situations heal it completely. Young kids just need the space to heal. And we need the space and support, too, to heal and help our babies to heal. We heal by feeling what happened and sharing the stories in connection, even with little babies.

I'd be happy to offer you a free 30 minute consult so I can help point you in the direction you'd like to go. Just call me 813.333.5552 or email me rebecca @ consciouslyparenting.com (without the spaces, of course) and we can find a time to connect. You've come a long way, mama. Glad you found my post. Best wishes and hope to hear from you soon. :-) Rebecca

Sarah said...

I found this on Pinterest too and have the same question... HOW?! My 5 year old daughter is pretty great most of the time. She listens well. She's a big help with her 3.5 year old brother and our new baby, 4 months old. She loves them both dearly and she's a great big sister. She has always been our "easy" kid and our boy has been the trying one. But lately, she has been throwing these huge, crazy tantrums. It usually starts out about something small and then escalates really quickly to crying and screaming at me. Last week, she started hitting me during one. This morning, she screamed and cried for almost 3 hours straight. I have tried talking to her in a soothing voice, holding her, sitting nearby, ignoring her, putting her in her room until she calms down (she just comes back out to scream at me; if I shut the door, she kicks it). Everything, EVERYTHING, seems to make it worse. I don't like ignoring her or sending her to her room, but I just can't figure out what to do and it disrupts the whole house when she screams like that at us. And lately in the middle of one, she will start screaming for me to come here or to bring her something in this horrible tone. "Mommy, COME HERE NOW! NOW! NOW!" "Bring me some water! Now! RIGHT NOW, MOM! RIGHT NOW! MOMMY! NOW! NOW!" I don't respond to her when she starts doing that. I'm just at a total loss what to do. After she's fainlly calmed down, if i try to talk about whatever upset her.. she gets angry faced at me, won't speak and usually turns away from me. She's even growled at me lately! It's like she's been bodysnatched and I feel like a total failure. I just don't know what to do.

Just a Dreamer said...

Just found this on pinterest and have found it (and the comments) really fascinating. I'm not a parent yet, but I wondered if you could clarify what you would do if a child is acting out because of boredom. I went shopping with a friend and her 22mo son and after being stopped at a cafe with him in his pushchair for a few minutes he started screeching, clearly not in any actual distress, for attention. After leaving and letting him walk for a bit he refused to hold her hand and behave so she put him back in the pushchair where the screeching began again. He was given food, drink, toys, attention, had his nappy changed and was given the opportunity to sleep in his pushchair with his comforter, but nothing worked. We ended up calling a halt to the trip and she took him home. Considering I know that I really want to be a mother one day, I felt quite overwhelmed by the fact that I couldn't think of anything to suggest to make things better and it made me doubt if I'm even cut out to be a parent when I found the experience so frustrating. I'm really intrigued by what you would do?

Jeffrey Pillow said...

My wife recently sent me this link. As parents of a two year old, we are always trying to find the most appropriate and caring way to respond to our daughter when she is upset, particularly during an epic meltdown when, as a parent, you feel like nothing you do can "help" the situation.

I found your words encouraging and will embrace them to the best of my ability the next time we are faced with a tantrum -- which will probably be today. Ha.

Thanks for writing.

M Mommy to 4 said...

Just A Dreamer-
I had the exact same experience with my daughter. It was like a completely different child had come and taken over my daughter! Her dad has suffered from depression his whole life (unmedicated and undiagnosed unfortunately!), and I have also suffered from it since the last baby just over two years ago. The thing that I've discovered in taking her to therapy, is that she seems to have a lot of the anxiety and depression issues that her parents have, the poor thing! And just like her mommy, her depression manifests itself as anger. For my daughter, that was the case. It may be VERY different for your daughter as every child is a completely different case, but for me it was very helpful to have the therapist explain that the antidepressants would help her. I hate the idea of having her medicated, but I know that for me, I don't do well without my medication, so why would I put her through that? Realizing that she was going through the same things that I'd gone through helped me a lot. We communicate a lot better now and I'm grateful that the therapist knew enough to say, "You know what, this is a situation that you need help with." Sometimes the outside help (whether it's a consultation with Rebecca, which sounds FANTASTIC, or even just talking with a grandma with your daughter) can help you see the similarities in your situations and you can understand where your daughter is coming from.
Rebecca, thank you for writing this! It's such a good reminder! I find that I do a good job with this with my young children, but once they hit about five, for some reason, I think that they should magically be able to deal with things themselves. This is a good reminder that the need for understanding and compassion doesn't end just because I think they should be able to deal with the issues themselves.

Laura Lookadoo said...

The last paragraph Still has me crying. I have 2 step daughters 7 and 3 and a baby girl of my own who is 3 months. This has definitely changed my opinion on how I want to parent all of my children! Thanks for sharing, we can all use a friend who just gets it!

Vest Family said...

When I started reading your article it made a lot of sense. Then I started to question some of the advice from my days as a teacher and short time as a mother (my son is only 2 1/2). First, once he gets in that tantrum state I am sadly no longer in a comforting mood myself and the more time I spend with him the more frustrated I become which I am sure he picks up on (a failure on my part not a flaw in the comforting style you propose) but my frustration only exacerbates the situation instead of helping it. Secondly he like most children seeks control of the situation (which is understandable since they has so little over their own world at that age) but seeing that he can control the situation to get what he wants in an negative manner seems opposite to what I want him to learn.
Please advise me of your views on this. I would much rather find a better way of dealing with tantrums than time out, but for the above listed reasons I find it hard to comfort during those times.
Thank you.

Allison Miller said...

I know it wasn't your intention, but I feel horribly guilty. I've done the ignoring with both of my kids and it hasn't worked, if anything it's made things worse. My 2yr old is really having a rough time right now, frequent fits, whining, and an overall bad attitude and I haven't had a clue how to approach this. Thank you for posting this, I really understand now that she's just wanting me to get down and connect with her instead of getting upset.

Delighting in Grace said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you for your great perspective. In this day and age it is very encouraging to hear about mums who care and love their children so intensely.

I would love to just make a quick point, if I may. What you have written is exactly what my husband and I do. But we also spank for tantrums and disobedience, which puts a sudden and necessary stop to the behaviour. As soon as the brief spank is over, the child receives complete love and forgiveness until she chooses to leave my lap.

My daughter is nearly five and we were done with spanking her by the time she turned three. She didn't need it anymore and believe me, she was NO easy child to control!

I believe that if children can be spanked without anger but with a gentle and thorough explanation of the bad behaviour, their behaviour will change rapidly and they will grow into beautiful, successful kids. It works wonders! but only with extreme gentleness, patience and persistence.

Adriana M. Bóveda-Lambie said...

Love this article...I started practicing this since my daughter was born and I'm happy to say we are at 2.5 and had yet to have an epic meltdown or full on tantrum of any kind. I was raised in the punishment withdrawal of love model and know EXACTLY how that feels. I did not want that for my daughter.

Kari Jean said...

Tears <3 Thank you.

HarmonySweetpea said...

What a wonderful perspective. I'm in those shoes right now trying to wean my 21 month old & it breaks my heart saying no because I still enjoy the closeness of nursing. But I'm struggling to concieve & think it may help. Thank you for this great post.


Donna said...

Sometimes the respekt and understanding is to give the child some space. Every child is a individ and only by getting who the child is and want to be you truly can connect. My stepchild is closer to me then any of her parents because I would respekt her as an individual not just a child with behavior. Sometimes I was hard, other times I was soft, but I listened and showed that I understod even thue I stayed strict. She has bloomed the last year although she still is a kind of difficult person (trauman in early years made her kind of sociopat for the most time of her life, PTS-disorder ) I still doesnt see that connecting means hugs or kisses every temper burst (she would kick, hit and bite if you tray to go near), her father does not respect that she want space . He got several scars to pruv it with and she has started to go bitter toward him for him allways traying to talk her down and holding her. After several years of destroying things and hurting other when she got does tember burst. I sew a pillox with noice making things in it. A calm afternon I gave it to her and explained that she wouldent feel sorry and have to deal with messes afterwards if she just hurt the pillow. She responded that pillow wouldent make a sound and she would not get a reaction from it, but it was nice of me trying. Then I asked her to trow it hard in the wall. She looked supprised but did it.. Oh the joy she express when it screamed and made crashing noices. She climbed into bed and jumped around banging her new pillow. She wasnt allowed to haw it to school but she had assistent during the breakes (she hade less trubbel in class because it was allways 2 teather with 12 students and if she began to get upset they just stayed 1 with the other 11 and she got at teather who toke her aside, in places where she only hurt the teather and it was at big male teather who could pin her to a wall if it come to that and yes he faced criminal charges for that but it was ruled selfdefens and protecting her from getting in worse situations) . She was allways destroying her own things as well as others when she got upset. Evry time sad for what she lost (other people has she only began to care fore the last years). Now she is her twentys and I am so happy how well she manage her self today. Reading up high school half time and working supporting her self half time <3 Keeping in touch and do her best to letting her best sides grow and flower, and discovering how small things in life brings joy to her.

Connecting is one of those things that make friendship and love deep with other beings (wether its children adults or animals or the feeling of connection with god ). PS Iam sorry for any bad gramma or misspelling. I am not english speaking or living in any english speaking land. / D. T.

krista40 said...

Hi- Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I am a special education teacher, and a parent to a child with challenging behaviors. I have developed a Calm Down Kit, which is a tool that allows parents and children to connect compassionately during tantrums, as well as used brain-based calming techniques. I would really appreciate people's feedback on my idea, as well as support, if you feel so moved, in getting it out into the world. You can watch my video about it, which has a link to my kickstarter campaign, at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbgUEjiBLn4

Thanks!

Krista
Eugene, Oregon

Elizabeth said...

Writing with a lump in my throat. With a 3 1/2 year old, a 15 mo. old, and one on the way, I find your words just the encouragement that this mama's heart needed to hear today. So timely. So true. Thank you.