I don't believe in tantrums, or witching hour or terrible twos. I never used those words or have them in my home. Perhaps that is why I feel like I never experienced them with my two children.
I actually really don't like the word. If I read a blog that uses the word tantrums or even behaviour I tend to loose interest in it. Interesting come to think of it, my close mum friends don't use this word either. I feel it implies there is no reason for why a child is unsettled or upset other then just wanting to be upset or just being two, or three or whatever age they are, and it stops the person from delving deeper to understand, empathise, connect and truly help the child. "They are just having a tantrum". "Ah this is the terrible twos". These words and phrases are so common it's like its ok to not explore reflect and consider things further. Send them to their room even so you don't have to deal with it. And that's ok because it is ... a tantrum.
What is it really?
I have always seen crying and upset as ......crying and upset. A littleone learning that they are a seperate entity from their mother (which happens when your energetic fields seperate around age 3), learning their independence and to cope with the feelings of emotions. Emotions are a wave of overwhelm for a little toddler and preschooler. Goodness knows we have difficulty controlling them and working through them sometimes. I have always just seen it as a time they are really really upset and need reassurance and comfort and understanding. That is what I would want if I were feeling emotional. I saw it is a time to guide this little being. If ever my husband used the word I would respond, "actually he is feeling completely overwhelmed with ...." or "I think he is really struggling with ....".
I was also aware that it could be a release of underlying stress. Stress of exploding independence, feeling frustrated with having to do what we want all the time, not being in control of much really and, here's the big ones, changes in sleeping, toilet "training", stress that comes with the change of a new baby. I believe this change affects our littleones hugely even if they seem to be coping well on the outside. It is still a huge change.
Janet Lansbury - Elevating Childcare explains and teaches understanding so well. She was my go to for help. Some key words from her which really helped were that a child's "bad behaviour" is their way of saying "I'm not coping". Because they don't have the maturity to understand what's going on inwardly and to come to you and express it. (Once again most adults don't have this awareness and maturity either). They are really telling you though "I'm not coping". Simple really.
Another article I read from Janet Lansbury was pivitol to expanded my understanding. It was on keeping boundaries and how the upset is "not about the cracker" (or whatever it is they are asking for). She explained how the child feels a build up of emotions within and needs to release them. So they will ask for something they know they can't have and actually they want you to keep your boundary do they can have a good cry and release it. I had always noticed how joyful and happy my son was after her had had a melt down. While I would sit with him through it I would think, he ll be really happy this afternoon. So this made sense to me. Amazingly in the next day of reading this article I noticed my son asking for something ridiculous. Unfortunately I can't remember what it was, but it was so obvious the answer was "no you can't have that right now". I realised he wanted to have a cry. I then began to see these times coming. The "issues" didn't really matter anymore. I was able to get ready for them, even head them off a bit and get in for the cuddle early. Even now at 6 if he has had a huge play with lots of children, I can see he is just emotionally drained and sometimes needs to have a cry and cuddle. He will get very upset over the littlest thing. Though now he knows to put himself in bed or under the blanket on the couch, his quiet comfort places, and ask for a cuddle. I wholeheartedly recommend following Janet Lansbury on Facebook and using the search engine on her website with key words to find articles on something you need help with. I have not read her book "No bad kids" as it was published as I was coming out of toddler and preschool years but I'm sure if you were only to have a few books on your parenting book shelf, this one would be a worthwhile. Ultimately it comes down to if you believe if children inherently good or bad. I remember vividly crying in my bedroom utterly utterly heart broken after I had been sent to my room, saying the words out loud as I sobbed "but I'm not bad".
While I'm at it, I dont believe in naughty either and don't like that word. Cheeky maybe but not naughty. If a child is defiant there is a reason, a disconnection. And I don't believe in crocodile tears either. If someone says it (and my husband has) I say "really? Can you make tears come out if your eyes and roll down your cheeks when you want to.". I'd sure like to sometimes. Like when you have missed your flight and don't want to pay for another one or when Mr Policeman pulls you over. But alas I can't. I do believe that as a child gets older there is a time, say 3-5 ish, where there is less emotion in the crying. Less distress. I feel this is a good thing. They are still upset, but not so overwhelmed with their emotions. It's more disappointment. They are learning to handle their emotions and disappointments. How good! But they are still a bit upset. So I give them a bit of empathy and and a bit of comfort.
So how do we support
Once my son was quite upset in our Steiner play group. My son felt his emotions very strongly and did not let go of them very easily. (My daughter on the other hand would be upset for 30 seconds, sigh and say "ok mummy" and go find something else to play with). I took him outside as he was disrupting the room quite a bit. I sat outside with him. And sat .... and sat .... and sat. There wasn't much consoling. Mothers would pop there head outside to let me know that my baby daughter was just fine. The teacher came out and gave a glass of water and a wet face cloth for him. Another mum came outside and told me how amazing I was and how much patience I had. It was so great to be in a place where I was totally supported by everyone with my parenting style and my son was fully accepted and cared for. I will never forget that. We did this a few times that Term. It often happened to be a time when a Grade 12 boy would sit in the courtyard opposite and play his guitar. That was beautiful and soothing for both of us.
Another time I took my mum to a good shoe store in the city we were living near. When we found a park, some reason my mum was in a big rush to get out of the car, telling me to hurry up and feed the metre. He had a huge meltdown as we crossed the road to the shops which was rather unusual as he normally liked outings. I think he picked up on my mothers stress and energy. Wanting to get my mum to the shop, I held his hand as I carried my baby and he cried walking down the street and spoke reassuring to him. My mum walking on the other side of him looked across at me with a huge glare. It took me by surprise. "What?" I asked. "Aren't you going to tell him to be quiet?" She said in a very disgusted voice. "Well no. He's sad". We got to the shop and I sat him on my lap and gave him a big cuddle. The shop owner was understanding. My mum said she didn't want to shop and went back to the car to go home. I sat on a bench on the street and held and cuddled my son and let him cry. I could not establish a reason for his crying, I just knew he needed a cry. A woman walked past and smiled at me. He soon calmed down. Isn't it nice when the world can be comfortable and understanding and supportive of a child's emotions. I think half the "problem" is us not feeling comfortable with emotions. We were taught early not to be and not to have them. Maybe if we were able to feel and release our emotions better, we would be more comfortable with a child's.
Here are some things I did to help at these times:
One key phrase that I read in our toddler years was to "Stay Listening". I love this term. This became my mantra. Now I know this can take all our might.. Staying listening at 3am when I had a baby girl in the next room or even on the same mattress was not easy. A couple of times I lost my patience and I was not proud of that at all, a couple of times I pulled it off and the rewards were great. He seemed very connected and grateful the next day. Sitting in the bedroom at the 40 min mark is another time it takes great strength. I would go through a roller coaster of comforting, getting frustrated (this would always amp things up) then concentrating on my breathing and trying to feel the love again, where he would always then calm down and touch me in some way, coming in for the cuddle. Then there'd be his deep sigh as he lay on me which I loved. As he got older I'd say "wow. That was a big wave of emotions wasn't it". Sometimes he would say "the motions came. I think they have gone now".
Sit in the bedroom with them. "Time in". They need you in their overwhelm. They need your calm in their storm. They need you calm face and safe place.
Make their comfort place. We made a place to go to at times when he was overwhelmed. It was the couch with our special soft weighted blanky (the blanket I had in my early 30 s for my anxiety attacks) or his bed and a glass of water. As he got older a simple glass of water would always calm him down. As he got older he would take himself to these places.
Reflect and know your triggers. I had an exercise book with columns. What happened, from his point of few, what I could do better next time and would put some quick strategies and mantras on the fridge.
Hold on to the belief that your child is lovely and sweet. A photo of a sweet toddler picture in a prominent place. You will find that is what they grow up to be.
Appreciate the good qualities of these traits. Passion, persistence, determination are actually great qualities for an adult. I will always remember the play group teacher who knew I was going through a hard phase and she walked me to my car one day. She said "He is very sensitive, which will be lovely when he is a young man, but hard now". I had to ask what she meant. She said he will be very sensitive and caring to others emotions when he is older. I thought of a friend who told me once her 18 yo son who, when they are out at a function together, can always tell when she is feeling a bit uncomfortable and he comes over to her and puts his hand on her shoulder. The play group teachers words put things in a good perspective.
What do you get?
You may have to spend half an hour sitting in the bedroom with your child, or 10 min at the shops holding them. Yes, this takes longer time than a stern word or putting them in the car or sending them to their room.
You won't get a child who represses their feelings, toughens and closes their heart and behaves good out of fear, resignation or submission. It comes out in their communication and self confidence with other adults.
You most likely get , a child that implicitly trusts you and listens to you, respects you, an adolescent who comes to you with their problems. You get a child who is comfortable with themselves. Who can confidently and happily look other adults in the eye. Who has self esteem, self respect, and the big clincher a child who knows how to work through their emotions. Who can observe their emotions, not be them. A child who knows they can and how to get to the calm on the otherside.. You could get child who won't have to spend their adult life learning how to feel and work through emotions or deal with repressed feelings with depression and anxiety. A child who knows how to be sensitive to another's emotions, how to hold a space for them and support another's emotions (imagine a young man like this. Whoa!). A child who knows unconditional love. Imagine the potential of a sensitive human, in touch with their feelings and others who has become an adult not having to waste too much energy on healing themselves. Imagine the energy they will have to spend and what they may offer the world. From wisdom, intuition, clarity, compassion. To me an extra 10 or 30 min here and there are worth all this. I see each minute as depositing loving energy in their bank for their lifetime. As Robin Grille in the wonderful "Heart to Heart Parenting" writes "This is a time in our children's lives when we can, through our responsiveness, most effectively assure for them a lifetime of security, emotional health and loving relationships".
Today at homeschool group, my 6 yo son was with a friend who is struggling with some emotions and wanted to play rough mean games. My son didn't want to and his friend was getting frustrated. I turned around and saw my son standing his ground, calmly looking down at his friend, fending of thrashing arms and say "let's play a nice game". He was calm in the midst of another's emotions, observing, not getting into the drama, standing grounded, staying there, trying to calm his friend down. In this flash of a moment he seemed so mature. I can't help but wonder if this gentle parenting had something to do with that.