Tantrums – why the goal isn’t to stop them but to acknowledge them

Just imagine that every time you feel upset, annoyed, bored, cross or worried, your partner would say “it doesn’t matter” “come on, you’re making too big a deal of this” or “look I need to do something else right now, I can’t listen to you”! Imagine that you didn’t have the tools to figure out what you were feeling on your own and that the things you were talking about were a really big deal to you. Do you think you would become more upset and anxious? We all would!
Essentially a tantrum is a child’s immature way of expressing their feelings. According to Adele Faber, author of ‘How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk’ the best way to deal with children is to acknowledge their feelings and give them a name. So for eg. You’re feeling sad because Daddy left for work. You’re feeling jealous because your baby brother is taking Mummy’s time. I read her book whilst pregnant. She says her methods work better than all the yelling and pleading in the world, something I’m keen to avoid.
So one day when my baby who is really only just a toddler and starting to speak at 18 months started to scream when Daddy left for work, instead of ‘its ok darling’ or ‘let’s play lego’ I said ‘yes it’s sad when Daddy leaves for work isn’t it. You miss him. You feel sad. Come on let’s cuddle.’ I have no idea how many of the words he understood but it worked. I think he appreciated my understanding tone and patience and I’m glad because that lays the foundations for good communication between us. And the tantrum stopped!
I’ve continued to use the method and have seen the look of ‘oh ok, she understands’ and ‘oh ok so this is a thing’ in my toddler’s eyes and although the tantrum may not immediately disappear, it does not escalate. I believe respecting a child’s feelings, and taking a few moments to help them learn what is going on inside them is their right just as teaching them the names of colours, shapes and words. It may not be so enjoyable but it certainly will pay off to have an emotionally intelligent person developing in our home who will gradually be able to figure out their own feelings. And in years to come they will hopefully become individuals who recognise their feelings and deal with them in a healthy way, rather than impulsively acting on feelings of rage or hurt.
Of course there are times my little boy does need to be distracted from something upsetting and times when we are in a hurry.
But on the whole so far I find Adele is right, and I hope what she says about kids responding by opening up will also happen in our home.


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