It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Experiencing tantrums

This post isn’t about what to do when experiencing a tantrum. I’ve discussed tantrums in some detail in a three-part series, which you can find here (part 1), here (part 2) and here (part 3). If you check under the “tantrum” category down there in the sidebar on the right, you’ll find lots more anecdotal stuff, too.

92296_the_stress_No, this post is for you, the parent who has a thrashing, screaming child on the floor in front of you. Or, if you’ve taken my advice and left them in a safe place and walked away, a thrashing, screamin child in the next room. Because lord only knows you’ll still be able to hear them! How are YOU feeling?

When people comment, and even more when I correspond with commenters, it is clear to me that many of you imagine that I float serenely above the chaos, the very picture of calm, cool, collected confidence.

Well, I am confident. Mentally, I’m calm. And externally, I’m cool — or, more accurately, controlled, because I will let the child see that Mary Is NOT Pleased With This Nonsense. (When necessary: with some children I use a soothing voice. NOT a coaxing one. Never, ever coax a tantrumming child. But I will use a soothing voice. Unless a stern one proves more efficient. This is what I mean by controlled: I consciously do what works, matching my response to the character of the child.)

Okay. So I am confident, and I look calm and controlled.

But inside?

After twenty years of dealing with toddlers and tantrums,
after twenty years of creating tantrum-free two-to-three years olds,
after twenty years of knowing that very soon this will all be in our past,
after twenty years of honing a practiced and effective response…

Tantrums still leave me shaky.

They really do. It’s not because I don’t know what to do next. It’s not because they alarm me. It’s not because I feel such compassion for their feelings. I’m not that I’m feeling fearful or anxious or helpless or even angry. (Though that last one comes closest to any emotional response I might be having. After all these years, exasperated is more like it.)

And yet, tantrums leave me shaky.

It’s because those wee ones are so PASSIONATE. They are FURIOUS. They are ENRAGED. The are positively FEROCIOUS. They are just radiating negativity, in extreme voltage. You cannot help — well, I can’t, at any rate — but be affected by that sort of emotional intensity.

After all these years, I am not affected emotionally so much as physically. The heart rate goes up, I’m sure of it. My response is clear, consistent, controlled, and practiced. I do not (externally, visibly) evidence the shakiness. But it’s there.

Thing is, I know, after all these years, that it’s not a sign of uncertainty. I am not second-guessing myself. It’s not a sign that I can’t handle this. I can, I am, and I will. It’s just, I believe, a normal human reaction of someone in the presence of a super-charged intensity of emotional/physical outburst.

So… you’ve walked away from the screaming, and your hands are trembling? You can feel your heart pounding? You’re maybe even sweating a bit?

Normal. Every bit of it. It’s an adrenaline rush, nothing more, nothing less. You’re not a Bad Mother (or Bad Father!). You’re not a wimp. It’s just a physiological response to intense stress. And it will pass.

Take a deep breath. Swing your arms. Put on some music and dance like a dervish. Run on the spot. Wrap your trembling hands around a hot cup of soothing mint tea. Take another deep breath and another, let them out long and slow. Drop your shoulders down from your ears.

You’re doing fiiiiiine.



January 9, 2009 Posted by | parents, power struggle, tantrums | , , | 15 Comments