Why This Isn’t Another Article About How To Stop Tantrums


It is such a dangerous part of our culture, the fear of letting liquid loose from our eyes – Hollie McNish, Performance Poet

Recently I’ve been coming across a lot of articles online about how to stop tantrums. These articles are well-meaning but the information they are sharing is misguided in the least, and potentially harmful to your child. The ideas they share are simply a reflection of the ‘cultural blind spot’ we have around the real purpose of crying.

To explain why I need to tell you a story about when I was 25 years old. My parents separated after 30 years of marriage, and although you might think this wouldn’t effect an adult as much as a child, I felt like the very foundation my life was built upon had been shattered.

I felt angry, so angry that in a two-week stretch I wrote 90,000 words of anger onto my computer ( I looked back later with a clearer head, and none of those words could be rewritten into anything worthwhile). I was stuck in my feelings, and I was also exhausted. I became incredibly fatigued and spent 90% of my weekends in bed watching DVD’s

Then I started doing yoga. I got a trial 7 day pass to a yoga studio and one day I tried out yin yoga. This is a slow gentle form of yoga where you spend a long time in each post, getting into the fascia of the body, where all our emotions are stored. Shortly after trying yin yoga my anger transformed into sadness. I started to cry. My entire writing style changed into something much more gentle. I stopped circling around in the same angry thoughts and began to get some clarity about my life. That’s when I started healing. I started to get more energy again, and my life changed. As I incorporated a new awareness of who I was things were much brighter than before my parents had separated.

It took me till the age of 25 to relearn this natural healing process that we are all born with; the ability to simply be with our emotions, to cry, and let them go. Crying is good for us. Through crying our body releases stress hormones, and makes antibodies, and endorphins. Crying actually plays a vital role in boosting the immune system, as well as our general physical health and emotional wellbeing.

Yesterday my daughter and I were leaving the house, and I asked her what she wanted and she said, ‘’anything.’’ So I packed an apple in my bag, and as we walked out the door, I told her I brought her an apple. She immediately started crying. One minute she was crying because the snack was meant to be a surprise, the next she was crying because an apple wasn’t enough.

I could of immediately ‘fixed’ things and rushed back up the stairs to get her another snack, but I sensed that her upset wasn’t really about the apple. She had been grumpy for the previous thirty minutes and I had sensed a storm brewing.

Instead I listened to her emphasising, and cuddling, and saying that we couldn’t go back and get anything else. After a few minutes those grumpy, underlying feelings were gone, and she was in a fantastic mood.

If I had avoided the meltdown, I might have been side-stepping her anger all day. Instead a bad mood was over in a matter of minutes.

Almost all of us start off thinking that stopping crying and tantrums (even when our child has no particular need) is for the best. It seems like the most natural thing in the world to do.

But what appears like nature is as actually a result of our own past experience. When we were children few of us had parents who could deal with our deep feelings, and when we cried they may have distracted us, or stopped us somehow, using gentle or not-so-gentle means.

When we grow up, until we examine our own response to crying we tend to react in a similar way to our own parents. So even if we choose to parent in a more peaceful way, we assume that crying is something we need to stop as quickly as possible.

Our thinking gets confused and we think that stopping meltdowns is ‘cheering’ our children up when in actual fact we’re encouraging them to bury their emotions. Stopping meltdowns can mean our children start to ‘tell’ us about their feelings through challenging behaviour, and parenting becomes much harder than it needs to be.

Funnily enough, our children never asked us to stop their tantrums. They are actually perfectly ‘happy’ to have them because it’s a healthy emotional release, and they are simply following their natural instinct to cry and get it out so they will feel better (and behave better) after having got to the end of a tantrum.

Stopping tantrums is all about us. It’s about the struggle we have with dealing with strong emotions, because our own strong emotions were never heard. When our children cry it triggers all our unconscious memories of how our parents reacted to meltdowns.

Instead of focusing on avoiding or stopping tantrums, we actually need to focus on how we can get ourselves into shape for the challenging emotional work of listening. Rather than trying to make our children cry less, we actually need to cry more. That’s at the heart of bringing up children who don’t need to recover from their childhoods.

My daughter’s life is pretty much therapy on tap. Play therapy, laughter therapy, and crying therapy. Although I’m not a therapist, so I don’t call it therapy, but it serves the exact same purpose and it is completely free.

This is emotional work, but it’s what I’m willing to do, because it means that at least most of the time, my daughter is absolutely a complete delight to be around. Also, because I don’t try to stop my daughter from crying, she tends to have most of her meltdowns at home, when she senses I’m most available to listen.

Hand in Hand parenting is all about supporting parents to do this challenging emotional work, and one of the most powerful ways we can do this, is by listening to each other, by creating the safety and space we need for our own emotions. Then we discover our true nature, and our ability to listen to our children’s tears.

Try This: Find a friend who’s a good listener and agree to exchange 10 minutes each talking and listening about how you feel when your toddler throws a tantrum. Vent and have a good moan. Reflect on what happened to you when you were a child and got upset.
Notice: Does this listening process effect how you react to your child’s next meltdown?

Further reading on handling tantrums and how to start a listening partnership with another parent.  Free ‘Secret To Transforming Tantrums’ E-Book
Listening Partnerships: The Secret Weapon Every Parent Needs To Know About 

Would you like to get started with Hand in Hand parenting? Here’s more info about the Parenting by Connection Starter Class

The Pramshed

27 thoughts on “Why This Isn’t Another Article About How To Stop Tantrums

  1. Great article. There are so many great ways to release your emotions from yoga to laughter to all sorts of things. It’s great that you are able to recognize her tantrums and work with her through them with just a bit of patience and understanding. And I love the part about yoga. It’s quite life changing.

    1. Thanks Kate. I think that healing period in my life prepared me for motherhood because it did give me first hand experience of how we can work through our emotions. The listening starts with listening to ourselves because our children’s emotional needs are never ending, and we need to find the patience!

  2. Very interesting approach. I admit that when I’m confronted with strong emotions I tend to react 60% authoritatively and 40% empathically – so I guess my goal is to at least switch the percentage!

    1. Yes, it’s not easy. It helps so much to have an outlet for our own emotions, since they are what get in the way of us being 100% empathic. It’s a never ending process! But rewarding in so many ways.

  3. I think I do a lot of side-stepping of the anger… anything for an easy life! Maybe I need to try to allow him let it out more… food for thought, thanks!

    1. You can allow him to let it out. Sometimes that helps get to the sadness underneath, and in the long run, tantrums get easier to handle. And you can let him be without having to fix, and just kind of be in the moment. It isn’t easy in those stormy moments, but when you children aren’t full of feelings, parenting does get easier at other times!

  4. I know about the therapeutic effects of crying for all ages but have never applied that knowledge to situations with my daughter’s tantrums! Will consciously give it a try!

    1. How interesting Hazel! Its amazing seeing children’s moods change when we listen to the end of their tantrum rather than trying to distract and fix. Good luck!

  5. This is such an interesting post. I have always fought to hold back tears at times of sadness/anger/grief in the belief that it is weak or embarrassing to cry in front of others. The way you explain crying, using it as an important release of emotions really makes sense to me. Thanks for sharing this with us on #fortheloveofBLOG x

    1. thanks for your comment. it’s so healthy to cry, providing we do feel safe to do so without fear of embarrassment. After a good cry about the difficulties in my life I often feel much stronger. 🙂

  6. I love this take on how to handle a tantrum! I agree that it’s not something that needs to be forcibly stopped but rather understood. I wrote a blogpost recently about how as adults we’ve demonised the so called ‘terrible twos’ when really it is a natural stage of great change resulting in sometimes erratic emotions that need to be understood rather than viewed as naughty or ‘terrible’. I find this post so interesting, I’ll definitely be showing my partner! X #fortheloveofblog

  7. This is interesting. I had read that the best response to tantrums is to not allow them to change anything, for good or bad. So don’t offer bribes or make threats to stop the tantrums. Wait until it’s over and then continue with whatever was going to take place before the tantrum started, as though nothing happened. The idea was that young children tend to be actually quite scared by that lack of control they have, and responding to a tantrum with bribes or with threats teaches them it has power to change things, and believing it has power will make them fear the emotions more. That makes sense to me. But not trying to stop a tantrum or giving a reaction is often harder said than done, especially in public where you feel others expect you to act a certain way. #fortheloveofBLOG

    1. Interesting. Yes I’d never recommend to parents to use either bribes or threats. I think that when we stay close and listen, it gives them the safety to know that their emotions are okay, and when we offer hugs, and can stay calm their brain attunes to our calm state and they can get back on track. It is really hard in public though. I usually try to find a quiet space away from people, and just remind myself that what matters most is my relationship with my daughter, not what other people think. Not always easy though!

  8. I like the idea of this post as I really don’t like the idea of suppressing emotions. I think that when we suppress emotions they just build up and build up until we eventually explode with them. I believe that by crying, whether it’s through angry or sadness is a natural response. The problem for me as a parent is that I don’t like to see my child upset so will try and stop them but I guess I am doing it more for me than them. Really interesting post that made me question my own actions. Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime 🎉

    1. thanks for your comment Catie, there is this great quote ‘Crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt’ – that really helped me understand that our children aren’t upset about crying, they’re upset about something else and the crying helps. It’s painful for us sometimes, but when you see the changes in behaviour after children have a good cry, you realise it’s worth it.

  9. It is a really interesting concept and one that I’ll try on my son. He’s just turned 15 months and gets frustrated and upset at times. I imagine when he can talk that it will become easier to communicate through these episodes together. #triballove

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