My son doesn’t have many temper tantrums, but the other day, he did. He wanted to go outside and play in his kiddie pool; it was raining.
“I geh pool?” he asked me with a level of hopefulness that made me feel like a giant mean-o for responding, “No buddy, you can’t get in the pool today, I’m sorry. It’s raining.”
Hi face crumpled and he pushed his juice cup off an end table to the floor, watching me the whole time. “No!” He reached down and pushed his cup across the floor. “No!”
“Hey, we don’t throw cups. Can you please pick up your cup and give it to me?” My attempt to both distract and impart a lesson failed colossally as my little angel-face flung himself to the ground and let out a wail you wouldn’t think could come out of someone so small.
As with all parenting advice, tips for dealing with this sort of thing abound. Here are the two methods that I’ve been using to handle these periodic tantrums: ignore or distract. They work if I apply them according to a simple formula. If he wants something he can’t have, distraction with something he CAN have is best. If he is just flat-out misbehaving and throwing a fit when I try to correct his behavior, I ignore him. Well, I ignore the tantrum. I sit with my arms crossed and wait for him to stop kicking his legs into the air and fake-crying and yelling because that crap simply will not fly. Usually he stops within a minute or two (even a toddler knows that when he wants attention or a specific thing and one method isn’t working, you try something else). Then I say, “Have you calmed down now? Good. You better come over here and give me five then.” Asking Jax to “give me five” means we play that game where I pull my hand away and say, “Too slow!” He loves this; he’s faster than me and has started saying, “AHHHH got ya!” when he, you know, gets me. So I say, “c’mere and give me five,” and usually he does, and then toddles off to do whatever and the tantrum is forgotten.
But seriously, the recent pool tantrum was near-epic, and after my attempts to lift him up to see outside, and even to walk outside for a second and let him feel the rain on him, he still was just NOT having it. I honestly don’t even remember what worked in the end–if you came to this post for graceful, authoritative ways to deal with tantrums, hahahaha I barely know what I’m doing, ok?–but after running back the hall to his room and wailing, then wailing in the bathroom, then wailing under the kitchen table, he finally came over to me and laid his head in my lap. I think he was just tired of tantruming.
Enter my own desire to be able to throw a temper tantrum, just every once in a while, and have it end with my head in the lap of someone who cares and wants me to feel better.
There is an art to a good temper tantrum. It’s drawing a line, right? It’s a game of wills, a tyrannical negotiation of sorts. It requires stamina, a complete lack of self-consciousness, and a full-body commitment.
The art of the temper tantrum, for a child, has the end goal of getting what s/he wants. Kids do this because they often lack the vocabulary to articulate their wants, or the emotional maturity to control their frustration when they don’t get it.
Adults who throw temper tantrums—and if you are one, please admit this about yourself—want to control others. A child might manipulate an adult into getting a toy at the store, but the toy is his ultimate goal, not control over the adult. They lack the emotional maturity to control their frustration, like toddlers, but also to even see that they’re acting like toddlers, making them more impossible than kids to reason with.
Have you ever known an adult who doesn’t know how to NOT be the center of attention, always? If something really good or really bad happens to someone else, this person will suddenly have incredible news to share, or will conversely be having the worst day in the world and need your support. If something is going on that has nothing to do with this person, s/he will insert her/himself into the situation.
And then there’s the volatility of someone with rage issues, someone who throws things, screams, doesn’t listen, can’t be reasoned with, insists you’re wrong no matter what you say or how you say it, and generally has about as much self-control as a tsunami.
Politicians, celebrities, sports figures, co-workers, exes–I’ve witnessed more than my fair share of adult temper tantrums in my life. How do people get away with that? What did their parents do when they threw tantrums as kids—applaud? How do I do the opposite of that, so my kid doesn’t grow up to be a spoiled, entitled brat?
And when it doesn’t work, or when nothing in my life seems, in fact, to be working, can I just one time throw a fit and be forgiven?
Of course not. So when I feel like I’m going to explode, I read a book, take a walk, turn the music up, or call a friend. Like a grown-up.
And eventually, Jax will get there, too. A few days ago, it was raining again and he asked about the pool. “Sorry, punkin, it’s raining and cold.” He looked at me, looked at the floor, looked back at me and said, “I geh moobie?”
“Yes, baby, you can get a movie to watch.”
“I geh cup?”
“Yes, baby, go get your cup and I’ll put some juice in it.”
And then he hugged me. Release comes in all forms. Who needs to break things?
How do you deal when a child OR an adult in your life throws a tantrum?