Last week, my six year-old threw a very loud, very intense and very public tantrum. He threw it because I said, No, to a treat that I wasn’t prepared to buy for him. And yes, I did explain why I said, No.
My saying, No, is not a new experience for him. He is familiar with the word and knows what it means. He is intelligent and articulate and understood my reasons for saying, No. I wasn’t too bothered by his outburst. I knew he would get through it and we would be on good terms again by the time we reached home. What was fascinating, to me, was other people’s reactions.
I really, really wish more people understood than these willful tantrums, what I’ve always called Processing Tantrums operate the same as the mourning process. It’s a process to be supported through, not stopped in some way to make me or others feel better.
My son, while in public, was initially in the Denial and then Anger and Bargaining stages. Like the mourning process, he oscillated between them but, because I held the, No, position but was emotionally as supportive as he would allow – mostly through calm words as he wouldn’t let me touch him – by the time we were five minutes away from the store, he hit the Sad stage and a minute later was in Acceptance.
But of course, the people in the store never saw those bits. They just saw the screaming and defiant child and drew their own conclusions. Most kept their opinions to themselves. Some were verbally supportive toward me or used body-language to show they understood. One woman meant very well but managed to irritate me more than the six year-old tantrum.
She told me not to be embarrassed. And seemed quite shocked when I said I wasn’t in the slightest bit embarrassed. Not one ounce of embarrassment was felt by me.
My children are not me. I am not my children and I am certainly not my children’s behaviors. My children are well nurtured, well fed, get loads of sleep, explore and take risks often, have great rituals and firm boundaries. I do my job of parenting them to the best of my ability and they’re turning out just fine.
Their job is to use me as their home base. Their job is to seek comfort from me when they choose to do so. Their job is to move away from me as they desire, at their own pace, in varying amounts as they are so driven. Their job is to learn that things don’t always go their way but they can survive that process and be, not only okay but also have a better understanding of their world and how to reasonably accommodate others, when it’s all over. Their job is to complete the mourning process when they hear that word, No.
I hate to think what would happen if my boys did not learn to properly process, now as children, with my support and understanding. Would they end up being abusive partners because they couldn’t respect the personal boundaries of others? Would they think they were above the law? Would they end up depressed because they got low grades, for what is a low grade but A. Would they stop taking chances and blame everything and everyone else in the world for their inadequacies? I suspect they would. I know plenty of adults who have these characteristics in their personalities.
So, if you see my boys throwing tantrums be assured I am comfortable with the short-term stress of supporting them through those times. They are processing.
I believe it’s worth the short-term pain for the long-term gain of raising kids with character. Their anti-social moments are not their permanent states.
And, really, truly, any tantrums they throw do not embarrass me. I am not my children’s behavior. I am their mother and their lighthouse.
Have you ever had a child tantrum in public? How was that for you? How did other people react?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Karyn Wills of Napier, New Zealand.
Photo Credit to Mindaugas Danys