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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Encouraging Baby’s Independance…And Mother’s Sanity

When my Son was 4 months old, he never, ever wanted to be set down on his own. When I needed to eat or use the restroom, he would get so mad that he was out of my arms and scream the entire time. Carrying around a 15 pound child all day long was not only physically exhausting, but emotionally exhausting as well, as I did not have my own space to take care of my basic needs. In addition to what I was feeling, my Son was not getting what he needed either. Sure he WANTED to be held, but he NEEDED to be able to move on his own and explore his individual place in the world. In her book Dear Parent: Caring for your Infant with Respect, Magda Gerber writes: “Parents who carry their babies most of the time are not giving their infants the opportunity to move according to their readiness. Most animals can show emotion only through touch, but we as humans have an extensive, varied and refined repertoire of ways to demonstrate love.”

So I was in a position where I was ready for something to change before I had a breakdown. Following Magda Gerbers advice, I would set him down for longer and longer periods of time. At first, he was so mad, he would cry and cry. After a little time, I would pick him up and instead of just mindlessly carrying him around as I had done before, I would really be present with him. I would talk to him about how great he was doing, getting used to being on his own, and how it IS hard to adjust to life here on earth and it’s perfectly alright to cry about it. Eventually, he was on his own longer and in my arms less and we were both finally free to be independent beings, co-existing with respect and love for the other.

Now I have my Son who couldn’t be happier crawling around my whole house while I sit in peace drinking tea and working on my own. He has finally gained the confidence he needed to play on his own. In her post Infant Play-Great Minds at Work, Janet Lansbury writes: “Babies are self-learners and what they truly need is the time, freedom and trust to just “be.” She shares a video of a boy who was left to play on his own for uninterrupted play from infancy:    

 “The first section is a four and a half month old boy playing outside. We then see the same boy at two years old focusing on a puzzle.  This boy spent his early years in free exploration between naps, feedings and diaper changes.  He was never directed, taught, or otherwise shown ‘how’ he should play. He was only interrupted when absolutely necessary.” I try to remind myself of the last part, and let my Son play uninterrupted. When he needs me, he always lets me know.

One thing I want to be clear of after sharing this story is that this what what my son and I needed. I know of so many mothers who choose to hold and wear their baby for large portions of the day, and I think that is great. It shows me that those mothers are responding to what THEIR children need. If it works for you and your family, then it must be the right fit. If it doesn’t work, which in my case was true, children are adaptable and intelligent beings that will fit into the lifestyle that works for you and your family as a whole.