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.