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Tantrum – interrupted

By Tavish Becker

My daughter Rosie (2) can be easily labelled the easy-going, charming one of the family. Yesterday, despite having convinced the extended family over the Christmas holidays that she is an angel, she was screaming fit to pull the house down, threatening to find a knife and cut off my fingers and generally behaving like a child out of control. Why this turnaround?

My son (4) had been sick and vomiting the whole morning and was mercifully asleep on his bed, whilst I was outside alone with Rosie playing house. I had been giving her some ‘wants nothing time’, observing her play and co-operating with her imaginings. And then suddenly this precious time together turned into a nightmare scene. I tried to acknowledge her feelings of anger but there was no connecting with her in the state she was in. And then, inevitably, my sick one woke up and wanted attention. I moved across to him, leaving Rosie with my mother. My mother calmed her down with jokes and cuddles.

One might think that this was the end of the scene and the tantrum had resolved. But later when we were alone together again Rosie started up with her screaming and crying over her toys being moved. This was unusual behaviour so I took a step back and tried to remember some lessons I have learnt from RIE.

  1. The tantrum was never about toys being moved, nor about the game we were been playing. It was about pent up feelings that needed to be released. She had been playing with her brother and cousins at an advanced level, co-operating and absorbing big life lessons. There had been a lot of family coming and going, often fussing over her as the littlest in the family. Christmas puts a strain on the adults, but we often forget it also puts a strain on the children who are used to a more sedate pace.
  2. She allowed me to walk away from the tantrum whilst her brother needed me, but she still needed to be with me for a tantrum.
  3. She needed to see that I was not afraid of her big emotions. She has a safe space with me where she can let it all hang out.
  4. Rosie needed me to see her tantrum through to the end, not to interrupt nor distract her whilst she worked through her emotional storm. Staying with her through the second tantrum was very cathartic. It didn’t last too long and I sat with her, not crowding her but nodding in acknowledgement when she was receptive to me.

After the tantrum ended, I gave her a hug and a cuddle and my angel was back. She was calm and happy for the rest of the day.

For more about this different, more accepting approach: