This morning Brook, my mostly mild-mannered four-year-old, had a huge tantrum. We were just about to get in the car and join our friends on a hike.
It all seemed to be going as planned but quickly took a turn when, out of the blue, Brook refused to sit in his booster seat and wear a shoulder belt. I took some time to try and negotiate some solution but after about 5 minutes it became clear this was no simple matter.
In the end I removed him from the car and, when the emotion just got bigger, decided to send my nine-year-old and our friends off with out us. I told them we would plan to join them when Brook was feeling better.
Brook’s tantrum lasted 75 minutes. I was struck by how far I have come in holding the space for this kind of powerful emotion. I was so completely unprepared and ill-equipped to navigate this terrain when my oldest son started tantrum-ing.
With Brook, although I didn’t have all the answers as he flung harsh words and hard objects my direction, I felt okay holding the space in this state of great unknown and upset. I did wonder how long his tantrum would last (especially when it seemed to go on and on with no end in sight). I did wonder what this was about and I did wonder if I was showing up in the best ways to help him regroup.
However, what has changed about my perspective over the years is that, in spite of the fact that I didn’t know the answers to these questions, somewhere I just trusted it would all be okay. The gift of a thousand tantrums is that I have had a thousand opportunities to grow more resilient, clear-headed and open-hearted when it comes to navigating strong emotion.
Although learning to hold a space for tantrums offers its own sense of peace and freedom, it is what follows that is the true reward. There is an outcome of holding a space for a tantrum that, when free from anger or judgment, continues to astound me. A magic door is often opened up into the mysterious inner world of my children – they will share their deepest thoughts and feelings and through this I feel the building of a stronger connection. It is then that the tantrum makes sense: it is usually about fear, safety, love and belonging. Never is it about the booster seat and shoulder belt.
After the flood of emotion had passed, there was a calm and a peace and lightness of being in Brook. On the drive to meet up with our friends we had a conversation about broken hearts and feelings. He seemed satisfied and at peace after our talk. His own heart seemed mended. He jumped out of the car with a big smile and had lots to say about all kinds of things. Hand in hand, we hiked to meet up with our friends.
– A Parenting by Connection Mom
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