What is a Tantrum?

tantrum.distress

Why is it that parents want to think that their young toddlers would willingly and purposely do things to upset, frustrate and anger them? Does that even make sense?

When I think of a child throwing tantrums, the first thing that comes to my mind is my brother. When he was young, he had a terrible time communicating.  It took several years of speech therapy to help him learn to communicate effectively. Until then, he was stuck trying to get his points across through pointing, grunting and making noises that most people could not understand. After several minutes of not being understood, he would often devolve into fits of rage. He was not defiant, nor was he trying to aggravate or anger anyone else. He was simply frustrated by the fact that no one could understand what he was saying.

I have watched people carrying on conversations with other adults while their children are desperately trying to gain their attention. The children will begin subtly with a tug on the leg and a polite, “Mommy.” When Mom ignores that, the child will try to step between the two adults, and be guided back to the side. The child will then raise his/her voice while tugging harder on the pant leg and continue to be ignored while the mother becomes agitated.  Eventually the child will start crying, and if the mother continues to ignore the child, s/he will devolve into a full fledged fit. All of which could have been avoided if the mother had simply paused her conversation at the first, “Mommy,” to respond to the child.

If people want to teach their children respect, to wait for a pause in the conversation or whatever, fine. Just remember that a toddler cannot comprehend that concept yet. By ignoring the child, a parent simply tells him/her that the parent does not care, nothing more, nothing less. The child learns nothing else from that experience until s/he is able to comprehend whatever lesson the parent wants to teach.

Everyone, not just children, get frustrated. I know I do. I know that I’ve thrown my own versions of “tantrums” because I’ve been frustrated. I spent a lot of money to put myself through college and get a degree, just to find out that even a college degree is worthless in today’s job market. After watching employers opt for kids with nothing but a high school diploma to their name, simply because they are a lot younger than I am makes my want to scream…and I have. I have scared the daylights out of my cats by screaming into a pillow to let out my frustration.

The next time a parent feels the urge to punish their child because of a tantrum, I believe that they should think really hard about the last time they were really frustrated. What happened? Why were they so frustrated? How would they have felt if some one had punished them for being frustrated? Do they think they deserved punishment, either for being frustrated or for whatever had frustrated them in the first place (i.e. burning dinner)?

One of the biggest obstacles for toddles to overcome is communication. Parents can be so attentive to babies and so willing to listen for that first word, but once a child speaks that first word, parents tend to lose interest in what their child is saying. It doesn’t matter if a child is asking for a drink of water, wanting to go to the potty or saying, “I love you,” every word spoken is important, and should be treated that way.

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Periodical Pain

You know, I’ve been trying to figure out what P.M.S. is ever since I was an adolescent. I was warned by every female adult in my life that I would hit a certain age, my body would go through changes, and I would have mood swings and emotional “issues” every month. That’s not what happened. I have no clue that my period is approaching other than the fact that it has been a month since my last period. I suppose I have a few mood swings after the thing starts, but that’s probably due to the pain. I’ve had people tell me to “suck it up and deal with it” before, but when I am in my own home, on my on turf, I feel that it is my right to complain.

Personally, I have a rather high tolerance for pain. I’ve had three children with very little complaint. I asked for an epidural with the first, but it was too late by the time I got around to that request, so I had the baby drug free and without an episiotomy (yay for tearing, not). The other two birthing experiences were similar with even more mistakes and oversights on the part of the medical staff overseeing my case.

The point here is, my pain threshold is high enough for me to give birth three times without much aid from anyone or anything. The pain from my periods, however, can bring me to my knees and hinder my ability to function. It alters my mood and changes my behavior. There is no premenstrual syndrome involving hormones causing this change in me. None of the mood swings, irritability, frustration, or other behavioral issues occur until the pain hits…after the blood flows. After the first few days, the pain subsides enough to allow for normal function to return. If hormones are involved in this, they are only responding to the pain.

The worst part is, I’ve spoken to doctors and no one seems to care or even take me seriously. What has to happen before someone in the medical community will take you seriously enough to listen?

Unconditional Love

There are many different types of love. In other languages, there are separate words to describe which kind of love a person is referring to. I’m sure that cuts down on a lot of confusion (and unnecessary awkwardness).

Aristotle explained the philosophy of love in depth, and gave us terms to differentiate between the types:

1. Eros: passion for someone or something. Often thought of as sexual desire.

2. Agape: the all-encompassing love of humanity. For those who worship a deity, this would be the love between god and man. For those who have a deep connection with nature, this would be the love between man and the earth. It is often referred to as “brotherly” love.

3. Philia: the love between friends and family. This also covers the love of a child.

If you’ll notice, none of these categories have any qualifiers. Nowhere does it say, “this is the love of _______ only if ______”.

Eros can be tricky sometimes. Passion can die if you let it. Once eros evolves into philia, is there a point in trying to continue a romantic relationship? Personally, I don’t think so. That’s why I don’t want my relationship to change in that direction. I have had people tell me that my man needs to accept who I am, even if I change, and deal  with it. I don’t believe that. I feel that it is my responsibility to take care myself and continue to be just as attractive as I was when we first met (to the best of my ability). He does the same for me. (Actually, he does more, and is better at keeping in shape, what can I say…)

Agape is pretty hard, too. I tend to be judgmental a lot more than I should. As much as I’d like to help others, I feel the need to have evidence that they are helping themselves, first. Here in California there are a lot of panhandlers. I can’t bring myself to just drop money into any random cup. Of course, if there is a street performer who entertains me, I have no problem giving money. I feel s/he earned that money through a good performance. I’ve also been known to buy several homemade cds off of the street. I feel that somebody went through a lot of trouble to make those cds, so I can spare a couple of bucks to buy one. Overall, I do tend to have a somewhat cynical view of humanity, so as much as I’d like to say that I’m brimming with brotherly love, I’m not. Humanity needs to start thinking for itself and caring about itself and actually standing up to authority once in a while (or a bit more often than that). Once that happens, perhaps my faith in man’s ability will be restored and I can start brimming with brotherly love again. Maybe someday I can work toward an unconditional status with mankind.

In my opinion, philias should be the easiest type of love to give freely and unconditionally, yet everywhere I look people put conditions on their personal relationships. I see siblings who get angry at each other for the other’s choice of spouse. Families are constantly fighting and picking sides. I’ve seen parents tell their children that they could never do anything to disrupt the parents’ love…then the child says s/he is gay, or gets caught with drugs at school, or is found having sex in his/her parents’ bed. The next thing the child knows, s/he is being shipped off to boarding school, or a psych ward, or a distant relatives house. Or worse, the parents do nothing. They refuse to talk or interact with the child at all. The child is left feeling abandoned no matter which road the parents take. The idea that the parents will always love them has been shattered, along with any trust that might have been there.

So how can a parent express dissatisfaction with a child’s behavior without compromising that unconditional love status? Easy. Talk to the child. The first question should always be, “How does this make you feel?” Never be discouraged by the answer, “I don’t know.” That is an honest answer from the child. Most of the time they have no idea why they did something or what they’re feeling afterward. When a parent starts the conversation with an accusatory question like, “What were you thinking?” the child will most likely shut down or become defensive and further communication will be futile. Often, focusing on something other than the incident at hand will help the child open up. Find something the child has done well recently and focus on that for a while. Once the child has relaxed and opened up about his/her achievements, revisit the behavioral issue and talk about the underlying reasons for doing it in the first place. Children (just like adults) don’t do things for no reason (contrary to popular belief). Even if the reason is “just to see if I could,” it’s still a reason. IMHO, I believe that more parents should be more open to this reason. If a child felt more comfortable coming to their parents to ask, “is it ok if I experiment with some bottle rockets in the back yard.” The parents could get some more details about the experiment, and even monitor it, instead of having to punish the child when one of the rockets takes off part of the shed’s roof.

I think I’ve rambled on enough for right now. In the end, I know it can be hard and tricky to love unconditionally, but when it comes to children and family, I find it much more rewarding to spend time loving and communicating than restricting access to each other. When you tell your family, “It’s my way or the highway,” you’re the one who loses the most.