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Tantrums - Training our children's emotions - Issue 204
June 10, 2011
Hi there! ....

This week just gone has been a very relaxed week as we eased into a new season for our days. For the next four weeks or so we will be focusing on creative projects, some of which may be completed in time for the local Agricultural Show. I hope to be able to complete a read aloud while the children work with their hands, but for this week we listened to a sermon about marriage on audio instead. It was a great opportunity to listen to something and then discuss what we heard.

This coming week we are preparing for a Character First seminar we are organising here in town. Jessica is organising the kids club, though her siblings and two girlfriends will be helping her on the day. This week we’ll be finalising those activities and doing lots of cooking for morning tea. It is exciting to see the training that goes on in the young years come together where your family can serve others as a family and as individuals. So I’d like to encourage families with young children keep on with the teaching and practicing life skills – one day you will see a bigger purpose for them.

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If you are an Australian reader I would appreciate you reading this special request.

Tantrums – call them for what they are

Tantrums are one of the consistent topics of concern for parents. We need to see different expressions of emotions as a tantrum and be prepared to address the issues that drive these outbursts. A tantrum is a physical expression of an unhappy emotion. A tantrum is triggered by an external situation – something has happened in the child’s life that they are not happy about.

Our emotions are expressed through our body – not just our face, but our whole body. Emotions can be expressed as

  • sullenness, resentfulness
  • mood swings
  • stamping feet, clenching teeth
  • screaming or crying
  • sulking, pouting, moping
  • huffing, puffing, rolling the eyes
  • grouchiness, being bothered
  • anger in its many expressions
  • irritable, annoyed
  • whining, whinging, complaining
  • being argumentative
  • despondent, unenthusiastic

Do you have these physical expressions of emotions in your house? Do you treat them like a tantrum? Tantrums are not just thrown by toddlers. Any time a child chooses to act out their emotions with the hope of manipulating a situation then it is a tantrum.

Often people make excuses for these expressions by saying it is hormonal or just a phase that the kids will grow out of. My only difficulty with this is that should I have such an emotional outburst no-one would excuse me for my hormones or suggest that I would grow out of it. I believe that our children have the same capacity for emotions as I do – they are made complete – and yet, they don’t have the self control to find appropriate forms of communication. This is where our role comes in – we are to help our children understand their emotions and find self control as they try and express the things that are important to them.

I believe the strong and negative feelings that our children express come from two major situations in their life:

  1. They are overwhelmed by what is happening to them
  2. They are not getting their own way.

I want to focus on that second issue: when a child does not get their own way. The my will vs. your will tantrum is where the child throws a wobbly with the express purpose of changing your mind. The danger is when we see an expression of sadness (for example) as simply sadness when it is really an expression of annoyance at your will being stronger. Pouting, huffing, folding the arms, turning their backs and crying are physical expressions of frustration because their will has not won. We must be firm, resolute and clear on what we want to happen and not be manipulated into changing our mind or even downplaying what is really going on.

We can be thrown by emotional outbursts because they seem random, and we can’t put our finger on anything specific. We need to realise though that our emotions are a direct output from our belief system. If I believe the world is out to get me – I will be surly. If I believe I’ve been hard done by I will respond accordingly. As parents we have to help our children see truth in these times when they start to see their world through foggy glasses. I said to one of my children the other day as their emotions started to unravel “Hang on there, I think you are thinking wonky!” For another child I tell them “You are heading down stinkin’ thinkin’!” These phrases have become catch phrases that warn my children to take care – and to reassess their reactions to their circumstances.

Resistance to our authority has to be called for what it is – it is rebellion. Resistance can be subtle or it can be all out war – either way we need to see it for what it is. It is easy to excuse subtle resistance as a ‘bad day’ or ‘hormonal’ or ‘just a phase’ but making such excuses will distract us, or rob us, from the opportunity to address their heart. When we talk heart we need to remember that the heart is our children’s conscience, mind, will, character, passions, emotions and determinations. We can help our children bring all these things in line with the word of God – notice that this includes their emotions.

When our children ark up against our authority we need to see what is really going on and not be manipulated by their negative feelings. We need to be focused on our desire to train them in appropriate life skills and responses rather than our immediate desire for peace – which is very strong in our hearts at these times – we will almost do anything to get our happy child back! But making them happy isn’t the answer. We need to understand that their belief will drive their emotion which will in turn drive their behaviour. We need to take the time to get to the seat of it all – their belief. Do they believe they are the boss? Do they believe they are more important than someone else? Do they believe they have rights? Do they believe they should have been considered? Etc… It may help us to see tantrums, in their many guises, when we see the selfish nature of our children’s expression. I want this. I am not happy. I… I … I!

Once we have identified that this is a tantrum where we may have previously considered it to be a mood, an emotional outburst, a meltdown, hormones playing up, etc we can then move on to addressing the issues.

  • Give them time to get over it. There is no way we can address heart issues while a child is in the middle of an outburst. We may have to isolate them, we may have to hold them still on our lap, or we may be able to hold their hands together. We need to wait till they have a receptive heart/mind before we begin to give them any instruction.
  • We need to be sure that we don’t approve of the outburst, though we can empathise with their feelings. We can understand what it is like to feel disappointed, betrayed, confused and scared but we must be able to communicate to our child, at some point, their choice of expression was inappropriate as it caused distress, hurt, etc for the other people around him (this may well be just you – but you are ‘another’ person in your child’s life.) Our consequences need to be for their choice of expression, not the emotion itself.
  • We can begin to see what triggers these expressions in our children and work on those heart issues proactively, outside of a meltdown. This not only gives our children coping strategies that direct their behaviour, but it will give us key words that we can use to guide our children through tough times.

I have used character traits such as self control, flexibility, cautiousness, gratefulness to address many issues that bring on tantrums in my children. When we work on these character issues during normal family life, before we hit a difficulty, we are able to paint pictures of what these character based choices would look like, we familiarise our children with better choices. They may still not make that choice but they have some knowledge that you maybe able to use to help them get a grip, or you can use to build on once you are able to talk to them.

I have found the book “Good and Angry” by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller to be very helpful - both in my own life and in helping my children. They list five reasons why we get angry and I believe these same things work in our children’s lives too.

  1. Physical pain
  2. Blocked goals
  3. Violated rights
  4. Unfairness or
  5. Unmet expectations

As we become familiar with these five ideas we will start to see what our children struggle with and find strategies to help them find appropriate responses when life doesn’t go according to their plan.

A few scripture verses that I have used to help my children:

For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:20

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man; do not associate with one easily angered. Proverbs 22:24

An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. Proverbs 29:22

There are no quick fixes when our children’s emotions are involved. We need to take the time to understand our children and we need to be committed to helping them have control over their emotions.

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    Belinda Letchford
    Living life with her kids in Australia!

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