People's Republic of Zollner

So the world DOES in fact revolve around Madeline Jane and Karis Anne Zollner!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Help for Tantrums

This is the topic of discussion for tomorrow's La Leche League toddler meeting and I think it is thought provoking. I feel lucky to have these kinds of articles to read as I craft my parenting philosophy and try to learn best how to meet Maddy's upcoming needs.... enjoy! (It is longer than my usual posts, but well worth it.)
From Mothering MagazineCry for Connection: A Fresh Approach to TantrumsBy Patty WipflerIssue 115, November/December 2002The man at my parenting talk is exasperated by his two-year-old son'sbehavior."First, he wants a glass of milk," he tells me. "I pour the glass andhand it to him, and he gets upset and says he doesn't want it. So Isay, 'Okay, then, I'll drink the milk.' I'm trying to show him I'mflexible. But he fusses and says, 'No, don't drink it, I want it!' Ioffer it to him again, and he swats it away! What in the world isgoing on?" He adds that these episodes are increasing. What could endthis cycle of contradictory wants that is spiraling out of control?What is he doing wrong? What does his son need?This child was teetering on the edge of a tantrum, a veryuncomfortable place for him and for his parents. Every child I knowhas moments when nothing he asks for actually helps, and when everyattempt to fill his needs seems to make things worse. I offered thefather a fresh perspective on tantrums that makes parenting youngchildren much simpler, if not easier. The headline is that you cansafely and serenely allow your child to have the tantrum he is headingtoward. That tantrum is necessary. It's healthy, and it's healing. Allyou need to add is your warm attention. The tantrum you permit him tohave clears a jam in his mental and emotional system so he can thinkwell again.Let's look at this approach in more general terms. Most of us evaluateour parenting in a very straightforward way. When our children arehappy, cooperative, loving, and polite, we take pride in them and inourselves as parents. When our children are unhappy or unreasonable,we figure that something has gone wrong, and we tend to blameourselves or them. In short, we've been trained to think of children'supsets as "bad."When an upset arises, we want to put an end to it as quickly aspossible. Some parents try distraction or reasoning; others useintimidation and force. Whatever our methods, conventional wisdom hasit that it's our job to end the upset. We require our children to tucktheir upsets away and be "good" again. We don't want them to grow upto be uncivilized, and we don't want to feel or look like "bad"parents with "bad" children.But what if, contrary to what we've grown up believing, tantrums andother expressions of feelings are actually useful? What if a tantrumis like an emotional sneeze--a natural reaction meant to clear outforeign material? Perhaps the usual struggle of parent versus child atemotional moments doesn't have to take place. Perhaps we can throwaway the mental chalkboard on which every meltdown is a mark againstour children or ourselves.There are four pivotal perceptions that can help us see tantrums in anew light.Children enjoy being easy-going, loving, cooperative, and eager tolearn. Children are built to take in lots of good experiences, and tooperate with joy and enthusiasm.Children's good nature can be obscured by bad feelings. When they aresad, frightened, bored, frustrated, or embarrassed, or when they feelalone or unappreciated, their good nature becomes encrusted with badfeelings. This emotional tension pulls their behavior off track, awayfrom trust, cooperation, and enthusiasm. When they are loaded with badfeelings, children literally can't think.Hurt feelings confine a child to unloving, fearful, or irrationalbehavior. A child will openly present this behavior in order to signalfor help. The child who wanted milk, then didn't, then did, thendidn't, was signaling as plainly as he could that his ability to thinkwas compromised. He was asking for help with a knot of unruly feelings.With a little help, a child who is upset or inflexible can recover hisability to reason and to be pleased. To do this, he needs a supportiveadult close by, while he works through his upset.A child cries, throws a tantrum, or sometimes trembles and struggles,to expose and offload her bad feelings. During her upset, she's doingher best to dig herself out of an irrational state. My suggestion tothe father whose son was on the verge of a tantrum may seemcounterintuitive, but it works. He could stop trying to solve theunsolvable glass of milk problem, move close to his son, and pay fullattention to whatever happens next. His son will lead the way.Usually, when a child feels that the parent has slowed down and isinterested in her rather than in solving a practical problem, thefeelings rise up and spill out, just the way they're meant to.Feelings spilled are feelings resolved. Feelings spilled are not achild's permanent assessment of the quality of our parenting. Thefather could listen with care to the tantrum, keeping his son safethroughout, trusting that he will soon make his way back to areasonable state of mind.It takes courage to listen to your first tantrum from beginning toend. It's usually an emotional wringer for the parent who tries it.Like opening your eyes underwater for the first time, you may worrythat you are doing damage. But the results are almost alwaysthoroughly convincing. Your child feels heard. She sees that you'vestayed with her through the worst of how she felt. Her mind clears,and life satisfies her again.As parents gain experience staying close through their children'semotional storms, they find that the trip no longer feels quite sorisky or grueling. Their child's upsets, which once seemed to point toa serious failure, now simply signal the need for a good cry, or agood tantrum. The child's system is on the fritz, no blame or shameinvolved, and the remedy is wet and wild, but simple.Tantrums Are Integral to the Learning ProcessTantrums arise as children's expectations become more ambitious andmore detailed. Their ideas of what they want to do are grand, yettheir abilities grow only through the messy process of trial and error.You know the scenario. Your child can't make things go her way and, toher credit, won't give up trying. Eventually, she runs out of newapproaches. She wants to succeed, but can't figure out how. Yourwell-meaning suggestions don't help, because in this emotional stateshe can't make use of any guidance; she must either fall apart orabandon the effort. Distracting her from the effort sometimes headsoff the tantrum in the short run but doesn't help in the long run.When she returns to that learning task or that expectation (or when,five minutes later, she finds another pretext to ignite her feelings),frustration will flare again, because until a tantrum dissolves it,the frustration stays pocketed inside her, agitating to be released.Feelings of frustration are an everyday glitch in the learningprocess, an unavoidable result of the clash between what childrenexpect and what turns out to be possible.As director of an infant-toddler day care center, I saw tantrumshappen for each and every child. We built very close relationshipswith the children. We saw all of them go through periods of time whenthey could meet challenges without losing their equilibrium.Inevitably, however, a time came when it seemed that any smalldisappointment would trigger a tantrum. We saw that children who wereabout to walk, children who were about to talk, and children who weremoving toward closer relationships with each other were likely to haveregular tantrums. Actually, we usually noticed the tantrums first, andobserved carefully to figure out the leap the child was working hardto make. We adults are trained to be so dependent on verbal languagethat we tend to be on the slow side in reading the language ofchildren's behavior fluently.I remember Janna, who was beginning to say her first words. Suddenlyshe would scream, throw herself down on the floor, and press her cheekinto the soft carpet. She crawled, crying and plowing her cheek acrossthe floor, for five or ten minutes. I would stay close and be thebumper that kept her from hitting her head on the furniture as sheworked her way noisily around the room. I would murmur that I saw howhard it was, that she was doing a good job of showing me how she felt,and I stayed ready to welcome her into my arms when her explosion wascompleted. Finally, she would sit peacefully on my lap, let me meether gaze and stroke her sweaty head, and then she was ready to play.After a few weeks of many meltdowns, more words were at her disposal,and her tantrums subsided.When he was two, my younger son had a set of tantrums that are etchedin my mind. He was intently hitting a balloon toward the ceiling overand over again. I thought nothing of it until he suddenly collapsed inan active frenzy. I came closer and gave him my attention, not knowingwhat had happened to set him off, but knowing that once he had begun,he needed to finish, and needed me there. After five minutes or so,his mind cleared and he got up, we connected, and he went back tohitting the balloon high again. One hit, and he threw himself backdown, kicking and thrashing. At that point, I realized what was goingon: he thought he ought to be able to make the balloon hit theceiling, and he couldn't! His expectation stretched beyond hisability. After another, shorter blast of frustrated energy, hefinished, connected with me, and picked up the balloon to play with itagain. He was finally happy with what he could do with the balloon.These "learning leap" and "expectation adjustment" tantrums are vital,integral parts of the learning process. When your child's learningcurve is high, when she's hopeful and active, tantrums may befrequent; she is regaining her ability to try again when she hasfailed and adjusting her expectations of herself, of what she'spermitted to do, and of you. She is learning by experience andblasting away the negative feelings that sometimes come with trying sohard and meeting disappointment. Tantrums are the "sneeze" that ejectsthe foreign material of frustration from your child's mind and body,so she can be proud of her abilities and her circumstances again.Tantrums Can Lead to Work on Core IssuesSome explosions that look like tantrums are directly connected to big,scary feelings that the child has internalized but not yet offloaded.They remain stored inside her, with lots of little trip wires holdingthem in place. When life is good and safe, and a small difficultyarises, a trip wire can jangle her with great big feelings that areappropriate to the earlier threat, but far out of proportion to thetiny pretext of the moment.For instance, I have a niece who would panic, then explode in wildreaction whenever she found herself in a tiny space. I rememberplaying with her one day in the kitchen. We crawled happily togetherunderneath a small child's table, which was where she wanted to go. Wewere laughing and enjoying each other. She looked up, saw how smallthe space was with both of us there, and her eyes grew wide. She beganthrashing and screaming in an instant.This initially looked like a tantrum, but it quickly became an attemptto work through wild feelings of panic. I held her and reassured herthat she was okay, that she could get out, and I calmly got the two ofus out. Once in the open, she continued to scream and writhe and cryfor a long time--the feelings had been triggered, and it didn't mattermuch where we were. When her mother came, her emotional workintensified- -Mommy meant added safety, and even bigger feelings. Whenshe was finished, she relaxed, connected, and we played some more.My niece had been having similar "sessions" related to being in tightplaces since she was six months old. Her father and mother learned tohold her close and support her during these times, guessing that shehad become terrified during her birth; she'd been lodged in the birthcanal for three hours before her mother could push her through. Herparents' listening helped her work through the leftover fears shecarried from that experience. For a couple of years, she signaled fora long screaming, struggling session almost daily. She began life as awary, coolly watchful baby. By the time she was three, she had becomerelaxed and cuddly--a total transformation of personality that ourwhole family witnessed with wonder. She's now a teen, an athlete, ascholar, and a fearless young woman.Getting Comfortable in Tantrum TerritoryProbably the most important step you can take to handle a tantrum wellis to plan for it. Generally, if your child has a tantrum everyevening in his high chair, you should simply include that tantrum inyour dinner plans. You can keep the oven on and put dinner back inwhen the tantrum begins, so it's still nice and hot when it's over. Orif sharing the fairy wand drives your daughter wild, you can decide inadvance to stay close to where she and her friend are playing, readyto gently keep her from grabbing the fairy wand from her friend.Now you've prepared yourself. When your child becomes edgy, movecloser. Sometimes, the beginning part of listening to a child'stantrum involves deciding not to placate her. If your daughter haschosen a dress to wear today but starts a fuss when you try to put iton her, you could ask her what other dress she wants. If she getsupset about the second dress she chooses, you can be sure you have achild who is seeking emotional relief. All you need to do to help herrecover is to stop bringing dresses. Gently say, "I think you'll haveto choose one of these two you picked out." This gives her permissionto begin the tantrum she needs to become reasonable again.Here are some general guidelines for weathering the storm that follows.1. Stay close to your child, keep him safe, but don't try to stop him.Let him move.A tantrum is full of noise and movement. Your child will become veryhot and may perspire. He needs to writhe, wiggle, and throw himselfaround to get the frustration out of his system. You can be the safetymanager, making sure that he doesn't bump into anything as heproceeds. If he bangs his head or hits himself, gently put your handbetween his head and the floor, or between his hand and his body, sothat he can use force without hurting himself. His struggle withunseen forces is helping him recover from the insult of not being ableto make his ideas and expectations work. Let him know you're on hisside by saying things like, "I know you want to play with the tincans. They look so good. But they're too sharp." Or, "I'll stay withyou. I'll help you wait for the fairy wand." Or, "No one's going tohurt you while you're in the car seat. I promise you'll get out.You'll always get out." Most tantrums are relatively short. You mightexpect to listen for five to 15 minutes. Once it is listened through,a tantrum clears rapidly, perhaps with some giggles and warm affectionbetween child and listener. This transformation of your fallen-apartchild into a gently reasonable person is one of the real wonders aparent can work. He will often gain a large store of patience thatyou'll appreciate during the following hours or days.2. If you are in a public place, you may want to carry your child to amore sheltered spot to ride out the tantrum.Children often pick public places to initiate tantrums. It may be thatthey feel safer to explode with lots of people around, or perhaps thestrain of being in an adult environment finally overloads theirtolerance. Often, it's worth the trouble to carry your writhing childto a less public spot, so you feel freer to handle thingsthoughtfully. If you have no car nearby, the delivery side of thegrocery store, the less crowded underwear and socks section of thedepartment store, or the front steps of your temple or church may haveto serve as a makeshift refuge while your child works things through.Ask for help if you need it: "Would you move my grocery cart to oneside? I'll be back in a few minutes." If you can manage it, a touch ofhumor helps: "Looks like we have technical difficulties! I do want tobuy this. I'll be back when my friend here feels better." Mostonlookers will be glad that you look like you know what you're doing.In fact, most have at one time or another faced the same situation youare facing. Don't worry too much about them.3. Try to remember that your child's frustrations aren't your fault,or hers, and that this tantrum is a good and healthy event.Often, being exposed to our child's raw emotions makes us feel the rawemotions that we have shoved into cold storage over the months andyears. And often, we parents seem to bring up our feelings byreflection, that is, by positing that we know how our child must feel.Actually, if we are having a feeling, the feeling is ours, and it mayhave only a vague resemblance to what our child is feeling. (Ourchildren often take their deepest feelings and attach them to tinypretexts. We often take our deepest feelings and attach them to whatour children do.) To be able to feel pleased with ourselves andsupportive of our children at these emotional moments, most parentsneed a chance to explore and express their own feelings. Talking to agood listener about how our lives are going is an excellent way tosort things out and to build the safety to have a good laugh or cry(or tantrum!) for ourselves. In my parent classes, I encourage parentsto pair up in Listening Partnerships, where each parent takes a turnto talk, uninterrupted, without advice being given. Parents who havebeen listened to gain more confidence in their children's wisdomduring emotional release "sessions," and feel less guilty when theseinevitable outbursts happen, because they are experiencing the reliefof a good laugh or a good cry for themselves.Is This Approach Too Permissive?This is the big question. If I listen to tantrums, will my child everbe well behaved again? It feels like there are too many times whenmessy upsets arise. If we listen every time, won't life become anuproar? Aren't we reinforcing lack of control?Supporting a child to complete a tantrum looks permissive, but itisn't. Permissiveness is ignoring misbehavior or failing to setreasonable limits on behavior. It doesn't help children when theirmisbehavior is ignored or when reasonable limits aren't set. Childrenrely on us to keep them safe and on track. This listening approachsays, "Step in when your child is going off track, and gently butfirmly prevent any hurting, grabbing, hoarding, throwing, destruction,withdrawal, or giving up. Go ahead and bring the limit to your child,physically stopping the behavior that's not working well. But allowthe feelings while you are holding those limits." Tantrums, crying,trembling and perspiring in the release of fear, and all the loudnoises that go with emotional release are not misbehavior. They are ahealing process that sets your child right with herself again.In the long run, when children are treated too permissively, theirbehavior can become bigger and more drastic. A child who isfrightened, for instance, needs someone to stop her just as she isabout to hurt someone, and let her express the feelings that underlieher aggression. Without limits, that aggression will increase.Permissiveness (and punishment, too) results in patterns of behaviorthat grow in depth and difficulty as the child desperately signalsthat she can't think and needs emotional release.Enjoy the Progress You've Helped to CreateWhen you first allow your child to have full tantrums, she may havequite a few, because you've opened the doors to a storehouse full ofunexpressed feelings. She's been waiting for this opportunity to getfree of old upsets, and she's eager to catch up with herself! Takeclose notice of how well your child connects with you afterward, howaffectionate she's able to be, how hopeful and flexible she isdirectly after a good outburst. You'll see heartening signs that hermind is clearing and new abilities are being gained. You'll havegained a power every parent wishes for: when your child's experimentshave failed or her expectations have been dashed, you can help herrecover her pride and hope.Doesn't Allowing a Tantrum Destroy a Child's Trust in You?We parents are devoted to building and keeping close emotional tieswith our children so they will have the foundation of trust andsupport that they need to thrive. It makes sense, in fact, to centerour parenting around building and rebuilding that closeness. Butcloseness doesn't protect children from all the frustrations or fearsthat accumulate in the course of a day. And closeness, by itself,isn't a complete antidote to the assorted fears and frustrationschildren acquire. If it were, our beloved children wouldn't be comingup with frustrations and upsets as often as they do!When we dread the times our children tantrum and cry, it is oftenbecause most of us were left alone or actively attacked for showingour feelings openly. Our memories of emotional moments are not ones ofgentle support and acceptance. If we were very lucky as children,there may have been times when someone patiently listened while wefelt pure frustration, but this is a culturally rare event. So wecan't help having fears about supporting our children while theyexpress their feelings.Those fears are tied to our own experience, not to the experience ofour children, who visibly benefit from the listening we do if we canremain with them through the whole emotional ride. In fact, when yourchild is falling apart emotionally, it's actually a highly effectivetime to strengthen the attachment between you. He won't look like hehears the love and acceptance you offer--he'll be very busy with hiswork--but every word you say and every loving tone in your voice andtouch will seep in. He'll see that you'll stay with him no matterwhat. This is the best reassurance a parent can offer.For additional information about tantrums, see the following articlesin past issues of Mothering: "Parenting Without Punishing," no. 88 and"The Disadvantages of Time-Out," no. 65.Patty Wipfler, the mother of two grown sons, is the director of theParents Leadership Institute (www.parentleaders. org) in Palo Alto ,California , which she founded in 1989 to help parents developlistening, parenting, and leadership skills. She has written 12booklets on listening, parent-to-parent and parent-to-child, and leadsRe-Evaluation Counseling weekend workshops for families in the US andabroad

3 Comments:

At 5:30 AM, Blogger Megan Crutchfield said...

Thank you for posting ths article. I find it helpful even in thinking about Odessa's (ten weeks old) fussy periods. Maybe, sometimes, it is not something that we are supposed to be able to "fix".

 
At 8:20 PM, Blogger Linda Zielinski said...

Very Interesting article. I think Maddy's few small outbursts this past wkend means she's working on her new verbal skills that are just around the corner. She's just working out her frustrations. (However, her expressions are so comical that it is difficult not to laugh) - we must remember that baby's play IS THEIR WORK!! So bring on the Tantrums Miss Maditude!

 
At 10:51 PM, Blogger Jason Zollner said...

Good Article.

Just a thinking point. We should consider changing the word child and children to our friends, coworkers, spouse, and adults as we read the article. This may help explain why some people do what they do during the day. I think also it goes to show how sometimes working out aggerssively has helped people work thru issues. A chance to work out your frustrations.
Maybe we should be giving other adults a chance to just talk and get their emotions out with out trying to solve the problem for them or giveing them a hard time about having emotions. (Guys it seems tend to do this more)
Thanks Hon

 

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