Every Tantrum is a Chance to Learn
Laurent is currently in his Terrible Twos stage and honestly, we get some sort of a tantrum or melt-down almost everyday.
Some days just warrant a little ticking off and other days time-off at the naughty corner. Then there are those days where the tantrum or meltdown is so serious, I could feel the very last bit of patience and tenderness being drained out of me.
I have had people telling me not to be so harsh or strict with him because he is still young. I have also had curious stares from bystanders when I lecture him in public. I even had strangers trying to help him up when he was lying on the floor, clearly throwing a tantrum and I insisted that he stop the nonsense and stand up by himself.
It would have been wayyyyyyyy easier for me to give in, say yes and tell him it’s ok every time he throws a tantrum. Every parent will know that the amount of time, energy and effort it takes to say a firm “NO” far outweigh the effort of saying “YES”. But when we think of the consequences that our decision have on our children, especially the long term consequences, every negative emotion you had to experience when saying “NO” is utterly worth it.
Just yesterday, Laurent had a pretty major meltdown during dinner. We were having dinner at the mall and an aunty sitting at the next table kept commenting that he is such a cute and handsome boy and that she was impressed by the way he eats. Up to that point, I sat there like a proud and happy mama, smiling politely at the aunty and accepting her praises graciously. When she was leaving, she passed a packet of biscuits to Laurent. Laurent usually takes pretty long to warm up to strangers so he went into his hermit crab mode and flashed a black face. I thanked the aunty and rejected the offer politely. When Laurent realised that the aunty had retracted the offer, he started wailing and screaming, “I want! I want!” The aunty was so scared she didn’t even dare to look back at our table while standing at the cashier to make payment. We had to calm him down, explain the situation to him and firmly tell him that we don’t just take things from strangers. At one point when I was lecturing him, he even said “I don’t want mummy!” It took about 15-20 minutes for the whole process and we had a ton of people staring at the commotion. Proud mama? Oh you bet…
I could have said yes to the free biscuits and said thank you on his behalf and we will all have a peaceful dinner. But we would have all missed the chance to learn something.
Laurent would have missed the chance to learn that we shouldn’t just accept gifts from strangers, that him giving a black face when someone tries to show him a kind gesture is socially unacceptable and that throwing a massive tantrum doesn’t get him anything.
We would have also missed the chance to learn more about Laurent, about our parenting styles and about how to handle his meltdowns when we are stuck in a situation where we don’t just walk away. And in this particular case, we also leant that our skin, as parents, grow a little thicker with each tantrum we deal with.
I believe that every time our child throws a tantrum, it is important to understand why is he doing that so that we can address the matter and explain to him why we make certain decisions or why the situation is as such.
They may not take it all in at once and it may take a while before the meltdown subsides. But it does’t mean that they are not listening and not understanding. And while it may seem like the tantrum can last longer than WW2, it will stop sooner than you expect.
After the meltdown subsided, Laurent was back to his old cheery self. He took his dinner heartily and acted like the whole incident did not occur. At the end of dinner, I told him that I am angry and upset over what happened just now and asked whether he knows why. He told me (in incomplete sentences) that it’s because there was an aunty, he said no, then he cried and mummy angry. He went on to apologise and gave me the puss-in-boots face which I usually find much harder to reject than his crazy tantrums.
We explained the incident and our reactions to him again for the last time and went on with our evening. Remember he said “I don’t want mummy!” just less than half an hour ago? He wanted me to carry him for the rest of the evening and turned to give me random pecks on the cheeks.
I used to really dislike dealing with his tantrums (ok, honestly I still do) because I get embarrassed, frustrated and defensive especially when he does that in public. That was because I used to see tantrums and meltdowns as him acting up for “no apparent reason”. Now that I keep reminding myself he is a child learning new information, norms and boundaries everyday, I can see that he needs all the patience, guidance and explanation to help him understand what is acceptable and what is not. He is not doing the “right” things because he still does’t quite understand what is “right”. But if we don’t take the chance to teach him, he will never understand.
And so every tantrum and every meltdown that comes with every “NO” and every “let’s wait for the right time”, is really a chance for all of us to learn something. Don’t let this learning opportunity slip by by giving in, saying “YES” and taking the (temporarily) easy way out. Sure, some days we choose our battles, some days we need to walk away so that the other parent can better manage the situation. But don’t be afraid to deal with tantrums. Face it, take control and it doesn’t matter whether you handled it well or not because at the end of the day we will all learn something from it.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5