"I done, Mommy. I come out now?” I looked up the stairs to see my three-year-old at her bedroom door. Smiling, I told her she could, and I invited her to come sit on my lap. She ran and curled up, still sniffling a little, as I wrapped my arms around her and rocked her. There are perks to being a mommy, and a time like this is one of them.
We rocked a long time and we talked about what happened. She usually doesn’t have tantrums, but that day was an exception. It was probably an outburst over wanting a cookie or something.
We talked about how that was not the way to get what she wanted. She knew that, even at a young age. It was just a tough day for her, and I understood. But I also knew, if I let her get away with it, she would try again someday. If it worked once, why not see if Mom will give in a second time? The best way to teach your children to have tantrums is to give them what they demand as they are screaming. If you do that, you have guaranteed it will happen again.
A friend of mine always said boys will be boys, as if that excused their poor behavior. I felt like saying, “Yes, but those boys will grow up to be men, and now is the time to teach them how to behave.”
How many parents allow their children to play too many video games, or talk back to their elders, or ignore chores, and then expect when the child turns 18, he or she will magically change and be perfect adults, as if childhood behavior evaporates overnight?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not how it works. If you want your child to still be on your couch when they are 28, then go ahead and let them play games all day. If you want to allow them to refuse dinner and snack afterwards, that is your prerogative—but don’t expect them to suddenly appreciate vegetables when they are adults. It won’t happen.
Even though I knew my daughter’s tantrum wasn’t normal behavior for her, I still had to stay consistent. Otherwise, she would try having a tantrum again to see if she could get what she wanted. So she was sent to her room to cry it out. Children cry a lot longer when they have an audience. Remove the audience and the crying generally ceases almost immediately.
Adults can throw tantrums too, and it’s not pretty. They may not roll around on the floor, kicking and screaming, but we all know someone who turns nasty when they don’t get what they want, or who holds a grudge or is quick to badmouth others.
Any time there is a sense of entitlement, there is going to be an adult tantrum. I experienced this firsthand, when we had someone spending some time with us who had not learned how to deal with disappointment. One day I didn’t give in to some of her demands, and the next thing I knew, this young adult was bouncing in her seat and whining, “Oh, please, Mrs. Howarrrrrrrrd!”
I still said no and she tried again. The third time I said no, she changed her tactic. “You are so mean. You never let me do what I want to do. You don’t even care. I hate you.”
It almost made me giggle. She knows I have ten children. Why would I give in to something like this? She might as well give up now.
But she didn’t. She started spewing rude, sarcastic comments, as if that would make me want to give in. If anything, it made me more determined to stand my ground. I don’t care for ultimatums or manipulation. And by her age—remember, this woman was well over 18—she should know how to discuss concerns in a normal voice. If she wasn’t going to do that, she lost the privilege of maybe getting what she wanted.
As I cuddled my adorable three-year-old after her tantrum, I knew I had given her a gift. I had helped her learn how to control her temper and talk about what she wanted. I had helped her learn to deal with disappointment and to choose to be happy.
Temper tantrums aren’t necessarily a normal part of growing up. They might happen occasionally, but allowing a child to blow up at every little thing does them a disservice. Seeing a school-age child screaming at his or her mother makes me sad. Unless the child has an untreated mental health issue, the parents are unwittingly teaching that child to be miserable. And I am pretty sure the mother is miserable, too.
My young daughter is now a mother herself, and now she is dealing with her own children’s tantrums. It makes me smile that she is managing them just fine. And because of that, her children are happier. She is happier, too.
Donna Howard is a mother of ten children—yes, ten—a grandmother of six, and has served as a foster parent. She has a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and composition. She teaches elementary music methods to education majors and owns her own band instrument repair business.