Updated: Jul 17, 2021
The new trend in parenting advice is to allow all the space the child needs to express their big feelings, or else the child will grow up with the unhealthy habit of repressing their feelings. However, should all child tantrums be handled in the same way?
Does it matter what the child is tantruming over? Should we give equal space for the big feelings resulting in a child having a new babysitter versus the big feelings of not being able to play with Mom’s pearl necklace, for example?
Of course when a child has a tantrum due to any legitimate reason, the child needs understanding, nurturing, and a lot of space for their big feelings. However, let’s consider if the child is empowered or disempowered when a parent gives all the validation and space for a child’s tantrum over more minor occurrences.
Another current trend in parenting advice is to say that a parent telling their child, “There, there, it’s not so bad,” is gaslighting the child. The Google Dictionary definition of gaslighting is, “to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” I disagree that a parent telling their child something like, “It’s okay, you’re fine, you’re okay,” is gaslighting the child. Although I applaud the intention behind the new trends in parent coaching, I feel some have gone a bit extreme and have abandoned some essential logic. (For related info, read another article I wrote entitled, Are Time-Outs Bad?) → https://www.getkidstobehave.com/post/are-time-outs-bad
It is very true that many of the old models of parenting that we grew up with, in general, have caused us to repress our emotions. We have an epidemic today of adults who cannot feel or be with our negative feelings. As a result of this, we avoid, distract, go numb, and even have addictions because when we were raised, our negative feelings were typically brushed aside or encouraged to be pushed down. We had little to no training, conditioning, or modeling in how to healthily handle and deal with our more negative, or low vibration, feelings.
Is the answer to raise our kids with an endless welcome mat and space for every negative emotion that ever arises in them for whatever reason? I follow a lot of parent coaches out there on social media these days who demonstrate the trend of “gentle parenting.” Honestly, I just love that term, “gentle parenting,” Oh how my inner child longed to be raised with gentleness! Gentleness is a beautiful thing in parenting and in life. However, I’ve seen it expressed within the context of a parent handling a tantrum and something just doesn’t sit right with me.
The videos I’ve seen online that demonstrate how current parent coaches handle child tantrums never seem to explain why the child is having the tantrum (but let’s put that point to the side for a moment.)
Imagine a child who is very angry and having a tantrum. Let’s say she is hitting her mom repeatedly and screaming, “I hate you.” According to the current parent coaches out there I’ve seen that lean more toward gentle parenting and giving space to big feelings, it seems the advised response is something like this: (We’ll stick to the example of being mad due to not being able to play with Mom’s pearl necklace.)
“I see that you're mad. You may not hit Mommy. It’s okay to be mad. You are safe. It’s okay to say you hate Mommy, but I won’t let you hit me. You are safe. I see you are mad because you really want to play with the necklace. You are safe. You may not hit Mommy. It’s hard to want something and not get it, isn’t it. You may not hit Mommy. Do you need a hug? You may not hit Mommy. Do you want to go to your calm spot? You may not hit Mommy.”
I definitely applaud the patience of the parent who handles a child repeatedly hitting them in this way. But is this really the best way to support the child?
One thing that is accomplished is the child is definitely not learning the bad habit of repressing their negative emotions. However, is that the only goal here? Is the ability to feel negative feelings for as long as and to whatever extent they feel like being expressed what most empowers children as they grow up? And, does it matter how trivial the actual reason is behind why the child is having the tantrum? Am I gaslighting because I used the word “trivial?”
As a teacher for 23 years, I’ve had longevity in working with kids and I’ve seen the results of the various ways of handling tantrums and the implications on child development as it relates to empowering the child for life. Sometimes children enter the 2nd Grade with bad habits of having tantrums when they don’t get their way, for whatever reason. Those kids certainly don’t repress their big feelings, but does this empower them? Obviously, there is a balance needed in any parenting approach. There are nuances within approaches that need to be accounted for. We should shy away from absolutes and we should trust our instincts more. We need to notice how the way we handle child tantrums influences the child’s future tendencies for tantrums.
If giving unlimited space for a kid's tantrums results in the kid's developing capacity to self-regulate, then I would say that it is a success. However, if giving unlimited space for a kid’s tantrum results in that kid having more and more tantrums for less and less significant things, then something needs to be altered in the approach. Two sets of parents may seemingly be attempting the same approach, however there are so many nuances to these approaches that really affect the outcome and may result in different results.
Instead of absolutes in following parenting techniques, parents should be open to altering their course of action based on simply what’s working and not working, for the sake of the child’s best interest. If a child is growing a bad tantruming habit, then the parenting approach needs to be altered to better support the child in developing an ability to emotionally regulate. The results of parenting techniques need to be noticed, and if the results aren’t desirable, then the parent should seek out an alternate approach.
Instead of absolutes such as, “always respond to tantrums like this,” I really believe that so many nuances need to be considered and applied based on many factors. Parents need a firm foundation of what works, while also using their instincts and knowledge of their kids. Current gentle parenting methods are so wonderful, but parents need to discern the fine line between when they are working to empower their children versus when they are accidentally breathing life into bad habits which disempower their children.
When I teach students in 2nd Grade who have bad habits of moodiness, anger, and tantrums, I see that their parents are absolutely wonderful people and parents, however in my opinion, they have shied away from discipline too much. I do believe there is a need for discipline within parenting techniques. There needs to be a balance. Some parents seem afraid to even think of the word discipline because they don’t want to be harsh with their kids. However, discipline does not have to be harsh. It can be kind and respectful. Kids need discipline to be empowered for life.
If this article is stirring up something within you, and you’d like to learn more, visit my website: www.getkidstobehave.com
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Maura from Get Kids To Behave