When my daughter threw her first tantrum, we were in a mall; she laid there on the ground with laud screams and cries. I was shocked, ashamed, frustrated and completely confused on what triggered it and how to make it go away. That day I will remember for the rest of my life, I stood there looking at her, wondering what to do, and how to do it but most of what I remember from that day is my decision to learn more about what created such anxiety to my child. What created enough anxiety, that would lead any child to scream out in such despair, I wanted to understand if there was something I am doing or the environment around my daughter that frustrated her or touched her in a way that really caused her such pain. My daughter was two back then and she is eight now, since that day I have been on a quest on learning about anxiety in kids and this article sums up most of what I learned in a nutshell. I am still learning and I know it is still a long journey; but I thought sharing what I have would maybe help some parent somewhere, that is like me on that day, standing in complete puzzlement in front of their child’s tantrum.
What I found that there isn’t really an easy answer to this question, it could be a range of things and it could be more than one thing going on at the same time. So what I am going to do in this entry is to just name the reasons just as small pieces of a puzzle and as a parent you can simply take whichever pieces you see fit to complete your own puzzle.
Love is the core of everything; yes truly love and attention is almost the core of everything that is going on with your child. When reflecting back on that day in the mall, I noticed how I was busy shopping and really enjoying what I was doing and missed the fact that my daughter wasn’t really being engaged in my joy. She was simply bored and needed attention, she needed my attention, engagement and to be seen and heard. I think that tantrum was her way of saying, I want to shop too, or I want to have fun too..etc.
What I have learned is that there’s no such thing as enough love, no matter how much you cuddle, embrace, play, engage your child routinely there will still be times when their need for love and care will be even higher and they will want it to be met in creative ways, sometimes ways that are away from your routine. They will want you to snuggle a little bit more even if it’s already bed time, they will want to hold the grocery list in the supermarket or maybe pick the stuff them selves, they will want you to engage them with cooking. If they threw a tantrum over food, maybe they wanted to have choice about what’s for dinner tonight, or every night. Endless examples on how holding your child with tenderness and love in diverse ways can truly minimize their anxiety about different things.
Again and again, the core of my message here is; rather than looking at the behavior itself, I invite you to examine the why’s behind it; what might be going on for her right now? Why is she saying no? why is she throwing things? – Children often use tantrums as strong messages to us, indicating needs that are really alive in them in a given moment.
Just a bad mood; Have you ever woke up one day and felt you’re just not seeing how shiny the sun is? I have, actually it happens to me a lot. Whether it was a bad sleep, a flue that I am catching or something that happened at work that is really on my mind that morning or sometimes it is really nothing, just grumpiness, we as adults consider this normal, we actually see it socially acceptable to expect our loved ones to tolerate us on such days; I personally would tell my husband something like “I am really in a grumpy mood today and I just want to do nothing”. I tell my friends similar things, and thankfully I have people in my life that actually do generously put up with me when I am in that mood. And I do the same for them.
Now when it comes to parents and their children, we seem to sometimes forget that like us our kids have feelings, needs and moods that swing as much as ours do. Just like us kids sometimes experience the same swings and have a need to express their emotions in ways that to us as parent are uncomfortable. I think it is ok, for our children to be grumpy, whinny when they feel they need to… that’s the best they can do at this moment.
Ok, then what do I do when my kid wake up in a bad mood? My answer would be acceptance, empathy, and sometimes space. If we want our kids to know that we love them unconditionally, it is during these times that we send this message; when they are irritable and uncomfortable, we hold them with care and compassion, let them know that we are trying to guess what’s going on with them and that it is ok that they are that way. My daughter’s way of having a grumpy day is crying on anything, literally, it could be something as simple as not finding cold water in the fridge or because someone put her book somewhere or even that the lights are switched on. My way in dealing with this varies every time; I would help her put a bottle or even put it for her in the fridge, I would make empathy guesses on how it must be frustrating when someone puts her things where she doesn’t want them to be, other times I would just hold her in my arms, maybe engage with her in a calming activity, or maybe take her for a walk. But I try not to say things like; “this is really not worth all of this fuss” or “are you really crying over this?” or “would you please stop it” or anything around these lines. The key here is to give her the message that she is accepted and loved, that I am willing to be with her during her pain and hold her hands out of it.
Food and environment; This is an important one, I think most parents underestimate the impact of what our kids eat on their behavior and wellbeing in general. And again the rule is very simple; the more natural ingredients and less artificial you put in your child’s diet, the healthier and happier they will be. And it goes both ways; the same way there are foods that influence your kids negatively there are others (more natural ofcourse) that impact them in a much more positive way. For example, there are many ingredients that actually would contribute to boosting your child’s mood and calming them down such as bananas, warm anise tea (I like to add milk to that), yogurt, and dark chocolate. Actually most fruits and veggies also have a somewhat calming effect on children.
Another important aspect is the environment; whether the space is too small, or not enough sun, or you’re using the wrong detergent, or it is too laud or too quiet, all are reasons how the surrounding environment could be influencing your child. My child is sensitive to laud voice, so whenever she enters into a place with high musical or high sound in general (even if open) she would immediately react and be uncomfortable.
Life events; It was challenging for me to put an appropriate title for this, so I chose this one as I thought it gave the broad meaning I needed. In general, your child’s mood is heavily influenced with things happening around him/her; who left the house, who yelled, how the weather was nice or rainy, how grandma is sick, how a friend moved away or moved closer, a fight with friends at school or not liking the teacher in preschool, or moving to a new place or having an aunt visit, it really could be a million things and some of them together. The point is that children process these events much differently than we do as adults; we have accumulated the wisdom somehow to deal with some of these life events, even if we haven’t got the wisdom we would still have the resources within or around us to tap into. It is very different for our kids however, in most cases, they are experiencing these life events for the first time and no matter how small we think the event is, to kids it could have a traumatic effect. A good example that comes to mind is when few years ago I decided to re arrange furniture in my living room, I decided that while my daughter was at school and had help to enable me to do it. Now when Nour came from school, I was shocked at the response! She was very silent, stared at the living room for quite a long time, then went to her room. She had nothing to say, and when I asked her about what she thought about it, she wouldn’t say anything. It seemed like she didn’t want to admit that I have changed it. For the next few days, Nour was very uncomfortable around the house, whiny and very agitated. She was very sensitive to me going into her room, or arranging anything in it, not even tidying it up (which she usually enjoyed and was very thankful). In the weekend, a friend of mine was visiting (she already saw the new arrangement) said something like, “I really feel weird around the house, it will take me sometime to get used to it this way” – and it hit me in this moment, that I haven’t prepared Nour for this change, and since we moved to this place, I haven’t really re arranged anything and it has been a couple of years already. I pondered on this thought a bit, then went and approached Nour about it; “I feel sad that I didn’t think more about the re arrangement and didn’t take the time to let you know about it before I do it, in fact am wondering if it would have been even more fun if we re arranged it together” – she sobbed that day, telling me how she really didn’t feel home and how it was surprising and we talked about it and about how we could maybe put it back together and change it when we are both ready.
I invite you to take notice of what life events are taking place, notice if it is related to home or school or playgroup or else. The point is not to miss the signals your child is trying to send you through his/her tantrums.
Like all my posts, this is not an all inclusive list, but rather an attempt to enlighten other parents going through a journey of better understanding their kids and building the a meaningful connection with them. I hope that this post will touch you in a helpful, supportive way and will truly contribute to a more peaceful space at your home.
Marwa Advocates for freedom, peace, and building compassionate homes.