My toddler girl had some sort of random illness that produced a mild to moderate fever. Her only other symptom was a slightly blocked nose when breathing deeply, whilst she slept. During her three to four day fever, she was lethargic. On the night her fever broke, she woke every 30 minutes because she couldn’t breathe with her blocked nose. and she was angry each time. I sensed a deeper anger within her.
That day, she was whiney and irritable, alternating with periods of happiness. She had a tantrum later that evening. The following day, she had five tantrums. On the third day she had one.
I refer to these as tantrums for convenience. but I tend to call them rages, because she is so furious. Also, the term tantrum has very misunderstood connotations attached to it. For older children, the term I’ve heard is meltdown.
The average person thinks of tantrums as the result of a spoilt child. At the more compassionate end of the scale, we think of tantrums as the result of a tired or ill child. Yet generally there is a belief that we ought to prevent and stop tantrums.
To me, tantrums are the natural extension of crying in newborns. That is, they are an innate mechanism of stress release. We all get stressed, and we all need to release that stress.
Stress can come from undesirable or desirable places. A surprise party, a first date, making a speech, receiving an award, or getting married, can all cause a lot of stress despite them being otherwise enjoyable to us. If we don’t release stress consciously and effectively, it will disperse one way or another. Prolonged stress and unreleased stress is a detriment to our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Children are particularly sensitive and are constantly bombarded by new experiences and new information from their environment. Older children, toddlers, are attempting to define an identity and work out boundaries.
Every child is different of course. Some have more of a temper, or are especially sensitive, and thereby might cry or tantrum more readily. But likewise, some children are more prone to please, and might be less likely to show strong emotions, especially if they quickly learn those emotions are not approved.
So, children are basically, regularly stressed.
We can release stress in many ways — vigorous activity (exercise, sex, hard physical work), relaxation experiences (massage, walks in nature, meditation), or through pure emotional/physical outlets (screaming, crying, intense laughing).
Out of all of these, crying is one that is very special. Because the act of crying has, in my view, four things going for it.
- It is emotionally satisfying — we understand the act to be a psychological release.
- It is physically demanding. (therefore like vigorous activity)
- It’s free and readily accessible.
- It releases stress hormones through the tears.
Isn’t that fourth one amazing?
For newborns, this ability to release stress hormones through crying is unbeatable. There is literally nothing else they can do. Older babies begin to be capable of using their bodies more. Toddlers can add screaming, shouting specific words, using their entire body, affecting their environment (by hitting, throwing objects, breaking things). As we get older, we’re taught to control our bodies and our emotions. And that’s how we get socially acceptable adults with stomach ulcers.
The repression of children’s voices has been going on for decades. so we can’t be too angry with ourselves for following the ways of our parents, and most of society.
If we find that we’re the parent that is proud of our child for being well-behaved (not complaining, not whining, not crying, not tantruming) during a flight, long car ride, social event, at a restaurant, then we might be repressing their natural methods at stress release. We might be repressing their emotional voice for the sake of convenience, peace, or social acceptance.
We can repress our children’s voices in many ways. by stern looks, by requesting their ‘nice’ voice but never validating their emotions, by telling them to be quiet, by not ever showing emotions ourselves, by disapproving of crying or tantrums. Too many tantrum articles focus on teaching the child control.
When she tantrumed I was grateful that she could release the stress of her illness. She released, she was validated, she was accepted and loved with all her emotions. For the parent, viewing tantrums as necessary and fulfilling a purpose means we feel much less stress ourselves. and we open up the channels of love.
Our child could be ‘well-behaved’ and build up emotional and psychological issues, or they can shout, cry, or tantrum in our loving presence as they need to.
Tantrums are a gift, honestly.