My son is six years old and he still has huge tantrums, often over really minor things like losing at a board game, or when we’ve run out of his favourite breakfast cereal. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I know that crying is a healing process for children, and it’s important that we can all express our emotions in a healthy way, but I’m wondering if there is an age when they grow out of tantrums. I wasn’t expecting my son to be still having full-on meltdowns at the age of 6!
My husband is also putting pressure on me, to stop encouraging his behaviour, as he feels like it isn’t helping him to learn when and where to express his emotions in a way that society finds acceptable. I also admit I am feeling uncomfortable with this too as he recently had a huge tantrum in the supermarket recently when I didn’t buy a toy that he wanted.
Can you help?, From ‘T’
thanks for your question. It resonated with me a lot as my whole journey to being a Hand in Hand Parenting started when I was babysitting a five-year old boy, and I was wondering what to do about his tantrums. I can also remember feeling like this was too old to have tantrums and that he should have grown out of this phase by now.
As our children get older it becomes easier for children to regulate their emotions, and so they may tantrum less. But something else is going on here. The more years children spend on this planet, the more they begin to get the message loud and clear that emotions aren’t tolerated everywhere. They begin to absorb patterns of repressing their emotions, because they sense that the adults around them don’t want to listen. This happens frequently with school-age children, who ‘save-up’ their meltdowns for their nearest and dearest, while keeping it together at school.
Many children will grow out of tantrums, as they sense that the adults around them are increasingly unaccepting of their feelings, but if your child is still tantrumming freely that’s actually a good thing.
Emotions are a healthy release for children whatever the age. When children cry with a loving adult it can help them release the feelings that often come out in their behaviour, so it’s always good to listen, and allow feelings. This is my article 10 Reasons Why A Toddler’s Tantrum Is Good For Them and all the reasons actually apply for older children too.
When children cry about small things, it’s helpful to remember that there’s often a deeper reason under the surface, this can help us have more empathy and understanding for the tears. So if your son cries a lot about losing at board games, it could be that deeper feelings are being triggered about competition or being good enough. Perhaps he’s also processing grief about a new sibling coming along, or an experience at school where he lost at something, and didn’t have an understanding adult to listen to him. These are just examples. We don’t need to know the deeper reason. We just need to be there to listen to the tears.
When it comes to emotional regulation, we often think we need to teach our children to know when it’s appropriate to show their feelings, but they actually do have a radar for when to express themselves.
Feelings do sometimes spill out in public, but if we take time to listen to feelings at home, and allow our children to cry as long as they need to, then this can reduce the likelihood of this happening. You can read more tips in Five Ways To Prevent Public Meltdowns.
The other thing that’s really important with Hand in Hand Parenting, is to find support for yourself. Often when we start questioning whether our child expressing feelings is healthy it can be because our own feelings from our childhood are coming up. Because our tears weren’t always met with connection and empathy, it can often be hard to do this heavy, emotional work with our children.
Have you got a question that you’d like a Hand in Hand Parenting answer to? Leave me a comment or contact me via facebook and your challenge could be the subject of my next blog post!
For more information about how to handle children’s big emotions, and off-track behaviour, check out my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children.