What I have learnt from a 2 year old.....Tantrums: Part 1

Tantrums: Part 1

Any parent, or even someone who has visited a supermarket, will be aware of a toddler’s ability to go from sweetness and light, to throwing a full scale tantrum, screaming the place down, and back to angel in under 10 mins. If you read the childcare books they will say it is a phase that they grow out of…..but do we really grow out of it, or just do it differently as we progress in years….?

In the hope of a quieter life I have been doing some very basic home research on what causes them, and I don’t mean the external thing e.g. ‘you can’t have any sweets’, but more what piece of psychology is happening….and what seems to be true is the external cause is never consistent i.e. one day you will get a tantrum about ‘x’ and the next day the same ‘x’ is accepted and all is well….so it can’t be the ‘x’ (the external thing ) that causes it. So what is it? It is more to do with expectation and the amount of perceived conditional well-being the ‘x’ has been loaded with to provide. E.g. ‘if you are a good girl whilst we get ready to go to grandma’s, you can watch a DVD in the car’…..then once in the car the DVD player is broken, cue 10 miles of shouting…..

I am not saying that tantrums don’t happen about less material things e.g. ‘hold my hand as we cross the road’, or ‘you need to go to bed now because you need some sleep’, as any impingement on their freedom will frustrate them. But many tantrums are created by us parents, trying to successfully navigate the day using what rewards, expectations and consequences we can impose on their external world (as we think it must be easier to do that than to shift their internal world). They then learn that if they do ‘y’ then ‘x’ happens - but what they also learn is that they think they need that external ‘x’ to be happy. If they don’t get it….tantrum time. However, often you catch them just existing in a very calm and peaceful state amusing themselves for hours on the simplest of things, like moving pebbles from one side of the path to the other.

Let’s macro this up for us big people…’you need to get that job promotion to buy the fancier car, to feel more secure about the world’ and imagine we don’t get the job (because of some external factor, like your colleague plays golf with the boss more than you do) so that means you aren’t fulfilled and need to find some other external outside-in condition to be present for happiness. So this perception I need to things to be present in the external world in order to be fulfilled drives our behaviour. Which is frustrating yes, even tantrum creating. Because we are trying to control the outside world, because we are lead to believe that the outside world controls us and creates our happiness for us. It doesn't.

Curious? Come and talk to me.