Tears and Tantrums


How can we help children to express their feelings in a healthy way?
Children need to know that they are accepted and loved with all of their feelings.
They need their feelings to be heard and acknowledged.

Children cry and rage to release distress and tension.
When we stop children from crying, reject their anger or quell their exuberance, we give them the message that it is not ok to have their feelings.

The child will still feel bad inside. He will be carrying unresolved tensions making him more prone to illness and to destructive behaviour. His suppressed anger and tears can burst out as tantrums, or he might be demanding, whiny or clingy. He may be uncooperative or hurtful to himself, or to others.

When children’s crying is accepted and we are able to acknowledge their anger and respect their feelings.
The child will feel good about himself. He will be able to express himself. He will be adventurous and unafraid. He will be more relaxed and less prone to illness. It will be easier for him to be loving and co-operative as well as happy, independent and resourceful.

It can be helpful to become aware of our own family patterns of coping with difficult feelings, and to practice noticing and naming our own feelings without blame.

Tantrums, Aggressiveness & Unconditional love

Children most need love and attention when they seem to least deserve it. Underneath aggressive and destructive behaviour, there are painful feelings.
Children need to know that crying and raging will not cause their parents to reject them.

Intervene quickly
  1. Firmly stop violent, aggressive or destructive behaviour.
  2. Give secure physical contact and encourage eye contact.
  3. Help the child to feel safe enough to release pent up feelings by crying or raging.
  4. Accept and be with the child’s feelings.
  5. If the child is old enough, help them to talk about what they feel and to say what they need.
then give lots of time for this...

Pause, slow down and deepen your breathing.
Hold the child and ask her to look at you.

Tell her what has angered or upset you and explain simply and clearly why it is not OK to do that...
Let her know that you can be angry about what she has done, and still love her.

Let her know that it is OK for her to feel angry and to cry and rage, and that you still love her even when she is angry.
Tell her you want to hold her until you both feel better.
(It is OK for you to cry too)
Hold her until her crying or raging resolves.
Keep encouraging eye contact.

Don’t let the child kick or punch or bite you.
Tell her "I know you are angry and want to bite/punch/kick me, but it is not ok to hurt people"
Keep holding her. If necessary, swaddle her in a rug like a baby and hold her securely while she rages until she has released all she needs to, in safety.

Let her know you still love her and take time to be with the loving feelings that have emerged.

Ask your child to let you know, when she feels angry or upset inside, so you can hold her until she feels better and so you can talk together about what upset her.
Of course it is really important to give contact and attention when she is not distressed too.

Time for Bonding

Set aside a regular time daily for each child.

It is important to give yourself time on your own too particularly for things that nourish the child in you.

Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter
Holding Time by Martha G.Welch

Links and References
Bonding and Emotional Health
Listening to Babies
Infant Trauma
Crying to be Heard
Bonding Before Birth
Touch and Attachment
index page
©Lesley Downie