469. A Temper Tantrum

Yesterday I dealt effectively with a child’s temper tantrum. It mostly involved knowing what NOT to do or say, how to think about the tantrum, and how to express what I was thinking and feeling. I wish I’d been able to deal so effectively with tantrums when my own children were growing up. But maybe yours are growing up now, so maybe my thoughts will help you.
We had just watched a movie, and the child wanted to watch another one. I said no. The child yelled, cried, argued, and said things I knew she didn’t mean. But I calmly stuck with my answer. I listened to her words, and told her how difficult it was for me to see her so upset, but I also told her that I wasn’t going to change my mind.
One thing I used to do was argue with the child throwing the tantrum. That never worked. Maybe I could win such an argument, but there was absolutely no prize for the winner. The process of arguing, when it’s effective, is rational, and temper tantrums aren’t. Reasoning with a child who is throwing a temper tantrum is like throwing a parachute to someone who is drowning; you may mean well, but it doesnt help.
Another approach I used to try was humor. Humor works for me in many situations when nothing else works. Sometimes I could even get an angry child to laugh. But if humor doesn’t work, it really backfires.
It says to the child, “What you’re upset about has no importance whatsoever. YOU have no importance whatsoever.” And that’s not a good message to give anyone. Humor, if it’s tried at all, has to be tried quite carefully.
Giving in doesn’t work. It can stop a temper tantrum, but it usually makes the next one worse. A child throwing a temper tantrum may actually have a good cause – may have important points to make. My response, now, is to try to listen to what the child is saying, to try not to do anything about what I hear until the tantrum is over, and then to let the child know that the temper tantrum had made it hard for me to listen – that perhaps some of what had been said could have influenced my thinking if it had been said calmly.
It helped that the child throwing the tantrum was not my child. And it helped that there wasn’t something I had to hurry up and get done; I had the time and the inclination to weather this storm. The temper tantrum
was much more difficult for the child than it was for me. I didn’t take the whole thing personally. I didn’t have a headache, and wasn’t on the verge of getting one.
I am not pretending that I have the answer to temper tantrums. I’m retired, and my daughters are adults. Very few people who have to deal with temper tantrums have their lives set up so neatly. But I thought
you’d like to hear that I, one person who has tried dealing with tantrums by arguing, joking, or giving in, have found something that works: listening, conveying caring, and being firm about limits.

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