the wildflower had some sort of 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 3/4-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 5 tantrums. on the third day she had 1, and it was short-lived.
i refer to these as tantrums for convenience. but i tend to call them rages. because she is so furious and it is a rage. 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, 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.
we get ill, have tight shoulders, aching back, athritis, headaches, insomnia, stomach ulcers, heartburn, and more. we are irritable, short-tempered, irrational, impulsive, short-sighted, paranoid, weepy, nervous, afraid, and more.
our minds and bodies do fine on short bursts of stress that is released. like adrenaline inducing sports.
prolonged stress and unreleased stress is a detriment to our minds, bodies, and spirits.
more so with children. 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 bounderies.
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.
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.
to gain yourself a well-behaved toddler, repress these natural urges even earlier.
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 you find that you're the parent that is proud of your child for being well-behaved (not complaining, not whining, not crying, not tantruming) during a flight, long car ride, social event, at a restaurant..... rather than simply being grateful that the child was content, then you might be repressing their natural methods at stress release. you might be repressing their emotional voice for the sake of convenience, peace, or social acceptance.
i was a perfectly behaved young child. when we went out as a family, if i was told to sit, i sat. quietly. outward appearances were very important to my mother. she was not going to have the child that misbehaved.
when i started school, i was a total pain in the butt to my teachers. not because i was a 'bad' kid, but because i discovered i had a voice, and i wasn't going to be stopped here, away from my parents.
when we were cared for by others when both my parents had to work, it took my brother getting hurt for me to speak up. despite being forced to sit and be quiet for hours by one carer, it hadn't occured to me that i ought to complain.
by the time puberty hit, i was ripe for rebellion.
in my first romantic relationships, i didn't know how to express unhappiness.
okay, there were plenty of other problems i had with my parents. but repressing my voice went a long way to instill resentment in me and cause issues with self-expression.
a tantrum is the eruption of pent up frustrations. sometimes frustrations are small, and the child may show no indication that he or she is frustrated at all at that moment. but every 'no', every thwarted attempt at self-assertion, every time a toy won't cooperate, tiredness, bumps, the wrong food, having to wait, boredom, being forced to do anything.... all these little frustrations and stresses add up. and we can include in there all the good stuff too - fun trips out, parties, a new toy, a new person visiting, a playdate.
suddenly you put socks on their feet and they lose the plot. it's the worse thing you could have done. it's horrendous. they're furious. they tense their bodies, kick, hit, scream, cry, throw something. your 'sweet' child that has been so happy all day, is suddenly a crazed banshee.
it's a common baffled complaint from parents - but we had such a lovely morning, then he just lost it.
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 guides focus on teaching the child control.
i used to have a terrible attitude towards tantrums. i viewed them as the result of a badly behaved child. i forgive myself such ignorance and lack of compassion, and am thankful i have learnt otherwise.
it was learning that crying was so essential, that led me to view tantrums as the natural extension.
when she tantrumed the other day, i was grateful that she could release the stress of her illness. i sat beside her, ocassionally looking lovingly into her eyes but otherwise not stimulating her more. moving my body enough to get out of the way of kicks or hits. when my intuition told me that she was ready for contact i extended my hand into hers. she continued screaming or crying as she held my hand. when she was done, she crawled up into my arms and we lay together quietly.
she released, she was validated, she was accepted and loved with all her emotions.
and 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.
and don't get the impression that i'm a perfect mama. during her 5-tantrum day, while she was whining for the upteenth time, i shouted at her, that she was driving me crazy. i'm human.
on that third day, the one tantrum she had was less furious. and on the fourth day she was back to her normal self - willful, demanding, full of energy, huge smiles and giggles, lots of hugging and kissing.
before this the wildflower hadn't tantrumed in a long time. i believe that's because i allow her her voice. she's allowed to be angry and express that anger.
your child could be 'well-behaved' and build up emotional and psychological issues, or they can shout, cry, or tantrum in your loving presence as they need to.
tantrums are a gift, really.
check out Solter's books: The Aware Baby, (amazon.uk) and Tears and Tantrums (I haven't read this one) (amazon uk).