Tantrums Can Be a Blessing

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There is a recently published article about tantrums that I’ve been thinking about. The article itself gives some great advice on how to help your children avoid a negative emotion space caused by stress by creating routine, predictability and good sleep opportunities. “It’s important for parents to be predictable in their routines and responses,’ Kurcinka said. ‘Because toddlers don’t understand the difference between weekdays and weekends, she encourages parents to be consistent on a daily basis with activities such as getting dressed, mealtime and nap-time ” Great! Though my contemplation lay in the feeling of the title, “How to stop your children’s meltdowns.” It seems to be causing quite some upset in comment threads, and one in particular on Janet Lansbury’s Facebook Page. There are very conflicting views on HOW people view tantrums and how one deals with them when they arise. We can do our best to avoid such a state for their own benefit but tantrums and tears will inevitably happen from time to time. This is an area that certainly gets me going! The topic of crying and how our society views this is varied and there is one view that is particularly unfortunate and unhealthy saying that crying and tantrums are dangerous for children. Such comments and myths causes much of frustration and helplessness for parents. Trying to STOP the crying may actually damage our relationship with our children because it may feel quite disrespectful to tell them to stop experiencing their motions. It would be the same as if a friend came to you in need, weeping and crying and you simply said “stop crying, please stop crying, you are fine. It’s time for you to be happy, here’s a cake.” I know that that’s not what I want when I’m sad (maybe the cake part though), what I want is a good cry to let out my feelings to someone eager to hold me and listen.

There is specific scientific evidence that shows that crying actually RELEASES damaging stress hormones. In this study it states: “What are the effects of crying? In 1963, American psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote in The Vital Balance that “weeping is perhaps the most human and most universal of all relief measures.” The observation applies well to both classic divisions of emotional tearing: tears associated with positive feelings such as joy, and tears associated with negative feelings such as grief. Crying is commonly thought to release emotional tension. Theologian Albert Richard Smith said that “tears are the safety valves of the heart when too much pressure is laid upon it.” It is often said that we cry when some internal barrier, a kind of dam, breaks, as in the expression a “well of tears.” Psychologist Dalbir Bindra found that crying episodes soften or dissipate the initial emotional state that triggered them, again suggesting a mood-relieving function.” When our child is crying they have reached a point of stress in their body that they cannot manage and a really good cry helps them to release higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in their brain.

Among these threads were some misinformed comments that actually claimed that crying DAMAGES the brain, which simply not true. Where this came from is that there are studies suggesting that prolonged crying may be a sign of brain damage and that prolonged stress may cause brain damage. Well, what we see in studies is that crying ELIVIATES stress which one would think (if you look at it logically) would reduce any possible brain damage. There are many factors that raise stress/cortisol levels and crying (and laughing) are the easiest way to release stress. There are also studies that say that leaving your newborn alone for extended period of times crying may cause brain damage, but this is not what I am talking about here; I am talking about letting you baby or toddler cry and fuss in your loving arms while you re-asure him. Say “You are sad, thank you for telling me,” or “It’s OKAY to cry and yell, I am here for you and you can just let it all out.” Don’t say “Shh, your okay” or find an immediate distraction to the crying as this will not allow the cortisol levels to release and they will STILL FEEL THE STRESS!

Some reasons why spreading these myths are so damaging is that it send the message to new parents that there child is in pain and hurting when they cry and it causes frustration and fear when they can’t “STOP” the weeping and tantrums. I had this horrible information when my son was first born and I was in agony; you can read this post where I talk about my epiphany and finally let him cry in my arms. Everything was better as he finally released all of that tension and stress that I was giving him by trying to STOP his tears.
So I am suggesting a different view to be spread around: tantrums and tears can actually be a good thing! Tantrums can help you connect with your child. When your child is so upset because you just said no to something this is a great time for you to come in and hold them and say “yes, this is making you sad is making you so sad you can hold mommy and tell me all about it.” This is what will bring a connection for you and your children. Down the road when your toddler becomes a teenager is having a hard time, instead of thinking they can’t come to you with their emotions, perhaps they will feel open to do so because of the long standing respect that you have fostered in your openness towards their big emotions. If you begin thier life with you by telling them you don’t want them to talk about your feelings, how can you ask them to do this when they are older? So start now! Look at those big emotions as a good thing and be happy for the opportunity for connection. Tantrums and tears need not be a curse of parenting, they CAN be a blessing.

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A Mother Never Forgets…..Her Birth Story!

207854_1025271264371_5595_nThis will be the third birth story that I am sharing this month as a gift for my little sister who is about to become a mother. (Here’s the first and second)  This is the story of the birth of my sister, dictated from a phone chat with my mom over a ‘shared’ bottle of wine. As this happened 26 years ago, you can see how to most important details are remembered. You will carry your birth experience with you for the rest of your life!

Birth Story #3: Bev and Ashley

In March of 1986, my mother gave birth naturally to her second child, my little sister. She was full term and the doctor was planning on bringing my mom into the hospital to induce her a few days after her due date. So to avoid induction, my mom (on the 5th) went to the mall to walk and walk and walk and walk to start labor naturally. My mom was SO tired from walking that they ordered a pizza for dinner and as my mom lay on the couch, (at 6 pm) she felt a strong contraction and decided not to eat because pizza is awful to throw back up (as sometimes happens during birth).

So then when she went to the bathroom and had a bloody show. When they called and spoke to the doctor they told her to come in to be checked, and then she just stayed at the hospital because it was slow and there was plenty of room for her. Once there, the contractions slowed down, so she walked and walked and walked again all night in the hospital hallways. They contractions would speed up when she walked and slowed down when she rested. The hospital was very, very quiet and peaceful and there was just one nice nurse helping them.

Towards the end of the night mom was getting exhausted from all the walking so they decided to give her some Pitocin at 4 AM. Immediately labor sped up to 3 minutes apart! (from 7 minutes apart) For less than an hour she had super strong contractions that she had to get used to fast as she didn’t have the gradual time to get used to the intensity as you would without Pitocin. She thinks that if they let her go without it she would have been fine and it just would have taken a little longer.

So then shortly after Dr. Brown checked up on her and told the nurse to get the stirrups ready as it was soon time to push. As my mom lay on the bed in pain waiting, the nurse couldn’t find the damn stirrups fast enough!!! So my mom was just waiting uncomfortably, legs dangling off of the bed, and getting really, really irritated. Finally, (after what sounded like an eternity) that nurse found them!!!

Once the stirrups were set up it went so fast that within an hour Ashley was here!!! My Mom never had an ultrasound (as was common in the 80’s for normal healthy births) so it was such a surprise. My mom got to hold her right away for a bit before the nurse took her to be cleaned up and weighed. She weighed in at 6 pounds 7 ounces and was born around 7 AM on March 6th.

One of the things my Mom mentioned the most is the contrast between her first birth (me) and my sisters birth. The first time around she had so many nurses and family yelling instructions at her that the second time, in a quiet and calm environment, she was a pro on her own. It was really peaceful and quiet and definitely the preferable way to go. With me, it was just SO CRAZY, with the yelling and the bright lights and everything! (I am amazed that my mom could actually give birth in that environment!)

My mom found breath control to be really, really helpful for her labor. She says that she does not think she could have given birth without it. She specifically mentions Lamaze a lot thought there are other methods as well. Being aware of your breathing in labor can actually be extremely helpful on many levels; it occupies your mind, keeps good oxygen flow in your body and keeps you calm.

The way my mom talks about birth is very inspiring for me. Natural birth to her seems to just be the way you do it, not a big deal, just something you do in life. She is such a tough lady and very strong and courageous.

“I’m Sorry I’m Grumpy:” Said the Mother to Her Baby

536659_3672287278117_866605873_nWhen we think of grumpiness and fussiness, we usually think of little children. Being a Mom or Dad is very hard work and on top of that work we are often sleep deprived and emotionally exhausted, sometimes even depressed. On our best days we are great parents who play with our children, laugh at everything and pour love out all over the place. Then there are the other days, the days that you just want to end. The day that your child woke up 50 million times at night, or the day that you threw out your back or have a head cold. How can it be that as parents we are expected to be nice and happy and fair and never take anything personally every single day? Well, I think we are human and absolutely never perfect. These are the days that we snap at our kids or roll our eyes when they throw fits or cry. The days that we refuse to play and we beg for that unconditional love we have in there somewhere. These are the days that the apoligies pour out.

“Mommy is grumpy, I am sorry.”

“It’s not you, I’m having a bad day.”

“It was wrong for me to yell at you, I’m sorry.”

“Mommy just doesn’t feel like playing ball right now, can we just cuddle or read instead?”

These are phrases that I have said when I am just being a plain old jerk to my kid; I mean just grumpy and not at all fun. If we are having emotions as adults, they know, they can feel it and I want to make sure to acknowledge that it is MY emotion and not theirs to worry about. I can’t possibly make myself a perfect Mom, never ever. But I CAN show my children that I am a self-aware Mom who will recognize when I am making a situation worse by lashing out emotionally instead of communicating my feelings. Some people say not to over talk about your own feelings with your kids and some people encourage this practice. My husband and I both agree that we want our children to live in a house where we openly express and discuss our feelings; I believe this relationship starts in infancy. These children are little angels and when they are having a hard day, it’s up to us to help them through it. In our house we take this one step further; we tell our son that “we take care of each other ” (it’s almost our family motto). This means that if myself or my husband are feeling “off” we will include our son and ask him to give hugs or even give space. It amazes me how he seems to understand this and on numerous occasions he has shown empathy beyond his years (though this is rare and more often he throws fits over everything, as toddlers do).  My short term hope is that my son will simply hear me apologize and perhaps forgive me for being grumpy with him. My long term hope is that any children I may have will be emotionally aware and capable of forgiveness.

If you have any helpful links about  this topic I would be happy to see them. I would also love to hear your thoughts on the matter. How would you talk to your kids about your feelings?