Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Prevent Temper Tantrums

       Or, Just How to Manage Them in the Moment

 My 8 year old still throws tantrums. There are tears and yelling, clenched teeth and fists, kicking legs and laying on the floor writhing around like a worm up on the sidewalk on a rainy day. What sets her off? A flute passage she didn't sight read perfectly. A cardboard box she can't cut open with safety scissors, or a lock she is trying to open with the wrong key. Episodes are brought on by an instant of provocation which is clearly apparent to the one who is going to lose it and anything but apparent to the mother who must soon manage a teary, snotty, loud, embarrassing mess.

So what is a parent to do with a child who whines, cries, and screams when they don't get their way? 


I think about Montessori Theory about childhood development. 


Okay, that is a lot of deep reading to do in a jiffy, so I'll just write a bit here about what I gleaned from my reading and study and how I apply it all to our day-to-day life.


Dr. Maria Montessori wrote that the child has his own innate power, that comes from within, to learn, to grow, and to acquire societal norms. As parents and guides, we aren't dictators, lecturers, or teachers. We don't have the ability to impart our nature or knowledge onto our children. We are simply humble assistants waiting in the wings to help the child when and where we can as they act in their own play of life. We are at most aiding the child in their own development, or merely gently guiding the child's progress, if you will. That inner fire that grows and transforms already burns within the child.


I believe that the child who is throwing a massive, ugly loud tantrum is simply send out a tiny meek plea for help. 


We are at church and my child is not happy about being there. There is wiggling, venturing under the pews, ripping of hymnals, loud talking, whining and complaining, crying, and then there is a break-down tantrum. **Okay parents take a short breath! **  Now, listen to that scream, echoing. Heads are turning in the pews with those eyes of dark judgement. But here it is...my child is telling me, "wow, Mom, I know you want me to be here, but I really can't be here right now. Please, help me. My shoes are too tight. My tummy hurts a little and my hands need to touch something. Please, help me mom, manage this enormous, challenging, scary, prickly, uncertain life I know so little about. Please don't be mad at me. I need help.  Please....help me."

So, as parents, we help those in need.

In the moment, I would remove my child from the church pew and bring them somewhere that meets their needs. We'd proceed to the narthex where there is space to walk, or stand and listen. We'd go outside, and walk among the flowers and the statues of Saints and admire God's creation. As an assistant to the child I would provide the environment the child's development needs in that moment. A quite contemplative environment is simply not what my child needs right then.

So, do we not go to church when the children are little?

 We go. We have always attended Sundays since they were infants. But I take extra measures to "prepare" their little bodies to be ready to sit still and act appropriately during that hour in the morning. Mass is an important time in our week. But the assistant must help prepare the child to be able to embrace this important experience.

What does our child need to be able to sit still and listen? Think of their body and their brains. Did they have a full breakfast that didn't contain too much sugar. Did they run hard outside in the sun before they came into a calm space? Did they get a good night sleep without interruption and wake well-rested? Are they wearing comfortable clothing and shoes, or clothing that is tolerable? Do they know what to expect and when there will be an end and they can run again? Do they know what behavior that is appropriate in Church? Have they practiced this behavior? Do they know that they have a safe-place to go when they feel like they are just going to burst and can't sit still anymore? And do they know that their assistant will help them be who they need to be with love and kindness and without anger and exasperation?

The tactics I use with my children may not be the ones that work for your children. Seek out what works for your child. What can you give them, or help them do, to prevent a tantrum before it happens, and save your sanity later.

 As parents we are assistants. We help furnish what the child needs for their own growth. How can a child in the midst of a temper tantrum be happy himself? Has a child ever said to you, "wow, that was a lot fun," after the tears have dried? Tantrums are no fun for them, and they are no fun for us either.

If we carefully listen for and respond well to those times that our children are calling for our help our children will begin to feel more secure in this world. And we will likely have to manage many fewer embarrassing tantrum-filled tense moments.

Hooray for that.

Post Script: For transparency purposes my family has never gone through this kind of a church situation. But, so you don't think I am a writer who doesn't research first, I've witnessed many an incident like this before.

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