In Her Words
Why I Let My Toddler Have Tantrums
Children should be allowed to express themselves
1. Tantrums give children a voice, even if it’s a noisy voice that’s venting their frustration. It is a way to be heard. Children who are heard tend to grow up to be articulate communicators rather than silent doormats. The main voice of authority a child listens to should not be a parent or teacher; the main voice should be his or her own. All children are born with innate wisdom and intuition, but that has to be fostered and supported in order to be trusted. We can teach our children to listen to their inner voices by showing that we, their parents, are listening to their outer voices even when that voice manifests itself as a tantrum. When kids feel heard by adults, they are more likely to continue to communicate with their parents even into their teens and adulthood.
2. Tantrums teach children to take the time to experience frustration when it happens rather than stuff those feelings inside. That repression can lead to future destructive behavior: emotional eating, bullying, cutting, animal cruelty, hoarding, etc. Children will never reach the peak of a mountain if, each time they fall, they are given a map to the ocean.
3. Tantrums provide the foundation for negotiation. Everything in life comes down to negotiation: how we bargain for our time, money and freedom. We start negotiating with our children as toddlers when we say, “You can have a cookie when you eat your vegetables.” Allowing your child to tantrum enough to feel heard opens the door to the process of negotiation. Now, granted, as the parent, we must maintain a firm hold on what is negotiable and what is not, but when we negotiate with our kids, we teach them how to make a case for their wants and needs, a priceless life skill that they will use with teachers, future employers and in all their personal relationships. Negotiation teaches children that the choice they make creates the experiences they have, and this in turn establishes self-reliance, one of the most important qualities a parent can teach a child.
As my child tantrums, I offer a sentence of acknowledgment, “Wow, you are really upset by this,” and I give her a few minutes to safely express that frustration. Then I offer to be a willing and comforting listener: “I’m sorry you are so upset, and when you are ready to talk about what’s bothering you, I am here to listen and to give you a hug.” If what she desires cannot be attained through negotiation, I move on to distraction, but at least she has been heard. And, honestly, what’s more important than hearing the needs of our children?
J.D. Smith has been married for nearly two decades and is the chief caregiver to a senior parent and a toddler child. She is the author of the monthly parenting series Letters to Our Children at BettyConfidential.com, contributes occasional pieces to DivineCaroline.com and has a writing blog at PhilosophersToilet.blogspot.com. Ms. Smith lives on the Southern California coast in a small and relatively peaceful beach community, but she considers herself a New Yorker at heart.