When my daughter was 6 weeks old, I was going out into town to a friends house for dinner. I had just fed her and put her into her pram (I wanted to carry her in a sling but I hadn’t managed to learn how to tie it yet. Then she started crying. I started feeling edgy and nervous about going out into the world with a crying baby.
Then there were voices in the hallway, and suddenly my daughter immediately stopped crying. It amazed me, that already at this age she could have an awareness of when it felt safe to cry.
Of course it wasn’t always like this. Sometimes she’d be so full of emotions that she’d cry and tantrum wherever and whenever, regardless of who was around.
It sometimes seems that it’s the job of parents to teach our children to ‘calm down,’ to self-regulate and to learn to control their emotions. But that observation of my six week old daughter made me realise that no child actually wants to have fits and tantrums in public. Just like adults they’d much rather keep their emotions for private moments.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll be familiar with the concept of staylistening, of how crying is a healing process which allows children to release stress and tension, providing there is an adult that stays close to listen to them. (If you’re new to the concept, I have some links to learn more at the end of the article)
If our toddler throws a tantrum we may have a strong urge to make it stop, to distract our child. We may be tempted to offer our child a toy to shift their attention, to turn on the TV or to ignore their tantrum so it stops as quickly as possible.
There’s lots of advice out there about how to get children to ‘calm down’ during tantrums. A lot of this advice is gentle but it actually sends the wrong message. It gives our child the message that expressing emotions is unacceptable.
It also interrupts their natural healing process so that they don’t get to release the stress and tension that has built-up. These unreleased feelings are one of the main reasons children ‘misbehave.‘ Tantrums are challenging, and can try our patience, but when we interrupt them, we are actually making parenting much harder than it needs to be.
With staylistening, we stay and listen to the upsets, without trying to stop them or distract our child from our feelings. Instead we stay present, riding out the storm together.
If we can create a safe space for our children to have their feelings at home they’ll be less likely to have their feelings spilling out in random moments like the supermarket queue or on the bus. And as they are less full of feelings, their behaviour will be easy to manage too!