5 surprising reasons why tantrums are a good thing
Can tantrums ever be a good thing?
My guess is you probably don’t feel like they can.
Especially not when your child is saying (shouting!) no in response to everything you say, is lying face down on the floor and is crying uncontrollably…
And all eyes are on you.
How could any of that possibly be a good thing?!
It’s hard for us to see tantrums as anything less than a major inconvenience – or a huge embarrassment – especially when they happen in the most public of places, when we’re in the middle of cooking dinner or when we’ve got 30 seconds left before we need to leave the house.
And the reason for this is because we adults, with our pretty much fully developed brains, often see the reason for children’s tantrums as pretty trivial - surely juice tastes just as good in the red cup as it does in the blue one, no?!
The thing is, seeing the reasons for a tantrum as trivial dismisses what is actually going on for your child at the time.
When your child has a tantrum, they enter full on ‘fight or flight’ mode, and they are primed to do whatever it takes to make the negative feelings they are experiencing go away.
And because they’re not able to politely and calmly say: “Mummy, I’m having a hard time right now, please can you help me?”, their only option is to behave in ways that might make it look like you’ve done something to endanger their life!
Part of the difficulty we have with tantrums though is not just the behaviour, but the way we think about them.
We describe them as ‘terrible’, as ‘uncontrollable’ as ‘embarrassing’.
And those descriptions aren’t necessarily inaccurate – they’re just not always that helpful.
They take away from what our children are really going through, and they take away from what we can do to help them get through.
But we don’t have to see them as terrible, uncontrollable or embarrassing.
In fact, flipping the script on how we talk about tantrums may just be the ticket we need to feel differently about them and, ultimately, respond differently to them.
So, while I’ll stop short of saying you need to embrace your child’s next tantrum with open arms, there are some reasons why you can consider it a good thing.
1) It tells you they feel safe around you
You might feel like your child is doing it to drive you crazy, but you could also take it as a compliment!
You know how you only really express your biggest feelings (especially negative ones) to the people that are closest to you?
That’s exactly what your child is doing.
They’re telling you that something just doesn’t feel right, and they trust that you’re going to be able to help them feel better.
To put it another way, imagine if your child never had a tantrum around you.
Wouldn’t it be awful to think that they were holding all their difficult feelings inside, afraid to let them out for fear of not being helped to manage them?
Of course, none of this would be conscious - just as children don’t make a conscious decision to have a tantrum – but it wouldn’t be too far off the mark as an interpretation of the behaviour.
So, the next time your child has a tantrum, tell yourself that they’re doing it because they need your help, and they trust that they’re going to get that from you.
2) It’s a normal, developmental way for them to express their emotions
This one goes back to the neuroscience – young children simply aren’t capable of rational and logical thought, especially when they’re experiencing heightened emotions.
There has never been, and there will never be a child who doesn’t have tantrums!
It’s just what they do.
Young children don’t have the communication skills to be able to express their unmet needs. They just know they feel bad, and that feeling gets played out in other ways.
So, whether it’s because they’re tired/hungry/uncomfortable/all of the above, or because they want complete independence and control over their environment, tantrums are an inevitable part of a child’s life.
And sometimes just knowing that makes them that little bit easier to handle.
3) It allows you to teach them how to regulate their emotions
Helping your child get through a tantrum and staying with them in the calm that follows gives you a perfect opportunity to discuss how they felt, how they responded, and what some alternative responses could look like.
When you help your child to understand and manage their strong feelings of anger, frustration or distress, you are helping them to lay down the pathways in their brain that will ultimately enable them to calm themselves down in times of stress.
You’re literally helping your child to develop their own stress-regulating systems.
And when you think of some of situations that they will encounter later in life, this is a system they’ll be grateful to you for helping them to develop.
4) It can help to strengthen your relationship
So, what we’ve gathered is that in these moments your child needs you.
However, when you look at the clenched fists, the tear-stained angry face, and the crumpled little body on the floor, picking them up and giving them a hug might not be the first thing you feel like doing.
But it’s the one thing that’s guaranteed to help them calm down.
And far from encouraging the tantrum behaviour, it also sends a powerful message to your child.
One that says: “I’ll be here for you whenever you need me”.
And there’s no stronger relationship reinforcer than that!
5) It gives you an opportunity to learn something about yourself
You probably see yourself as someone who is there to teach your child things, right?
To teach them how to do things for themselves, to teach them right from wrong, to teach them about the world. But have you ever considered what your child might be teaching you? (Yes, even through their tantrums!)
For one, your child’s tantrums will inevitably trigger something in you. Something that causes you to respond in a certain way.
But as well as being an opportunity for you to teach your child about regulating their emotions, it’s a chance for you to do that for yourself too. In fact, you’ll be hard pushed to help your child to regulate their emotions if you can’t regulate your own.
Remember: you cannot control the situation, but you can control your reaction.
And yes, these words are much easier to say than to put into practice but separating yourself from what is happening and really thinking about how you respond can – and this is no joke – literally be life-changing.
In the same vein, your child having a tantrum gives you a prime-time opportunity to practise being the kind of parent you want to be.
It’s easy to be the most loving, caring, and calmest parent when times are good; when your child is being an absolute delight and charming the pants off everyone you meet.
It’s in the most challenging moments that this becomes really difficult.
But you know, when you can find it within you to still be loving, caring and calm while your child is wreaking havoc in the toiletries aisle in Tesco then you can take it from me – you’ve pretty much nailed it.
Remember that we learn through our experiences.
More specifically, it’s through repeated experiences that the neural connections in our brains are strengthened.
Yes, this means that your child will probably have more tantrums than you care to think about!
And you can’t really do anything about that.
But you can look at them differently, you can believe that you can manage them, and you can see them as a good thing – for them and for you.