Understanding Toddler Tantrums
by Beverley Paine
This post is about toddler tantrums, my attempt at understanding at what is going on with these little people that makes life for parents at this time so heartbreakingly difficult. It's my take on it after thinking about it a lot over the last year. It comes out of my motto to observe what is actually happening (trying not to overlay it with my expectations or view it with my existing biases) and then determine needs, taking into consideration the characteristics of the individuals or situations involved.
Imagine if you had never had a panic attack and suddenly whammo, out of the blue, without notice you suddenly had one.
I think it is a bit like that for our toddlers.
Panic attacks are driven by fear. I think toddlers anger attacks are driven by frustration. They don't have the awareness or self-concept developed sufficiently at this age to be able to manage the emotions they experience. Frustration is something they encounter from birth but by about this age their growing sense of self and understanding of responsibility and consequences combine to create a level of frustration we can only imagine (mostly because we have a heap of strategies we've developed over time to never let frustration get to that level!)
Add to this confusion - little people's lives are full of contradiction and confusion but they mostly take it in their stride, thankfully because they are easily distracted by the next awesome learning moment.
However stress accumulates - and when it becomes too much, it spills over as this terrifying burst of anger. And it is truly terrifying at first for our kids... Eventually they'll learn the signs and signals and get to know the emotion and work out what to do with it - and that's where we come into the learning process. Our reactions and responses will increasingly play a large part in what our children learn to do with this ability to manage outbursts of anger.
Little people are very active learners - their growth and survival depends on it, so every moment is a learning moment on steroids! What we can do is make sure we get adequate rest, the best nutrition, are fully hydrated, are fit and as healthy as we can be so that when our toddlers go through this phase we are in shape to manage our reactions and responses.
The other thing we can do is be incredibly sypathetic. The child is being horrible and we do need to protect ourselves and siblings or other children. But it's like being with an adult having a panic attack. Telling them to snap out of, using logical arguments, reasoning, etc only begin to work when the person feels supported, affirmed, safe, trusted, etc.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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