A Tantrum is a Tantrum

I have two little boys, both of whom are right in the middle of the temper-tantrum-response-to-life phase. I’m going to be honest: it can be exhausting. You never know what will set them off, especially when they’re tired. For example, I gave one of the boys another cracker the other night and the other one had a meltdown (he had his own crackers on a plate in front of him, by the way). And by “set off,” I mean he was on the ground, rolling around and screaming.

For the parents out there, I’m sure you’re chuckling as you nod knowingly. We’ve all been there.

And we get through it because we tell ourselves “they’re going to grow out of this.” And we try to not react to the writhing-on-the-floor-despite-not-being-in-any-physical-pain activity.

But, I bet we’ve all encountered an adult who seemed to miss the memo that we’re supposed to grow out of temper tantrums. Adult tantrums can manifest in a variety of ways: road rage, a meltdown because a coffee order was done incorrectly, the quick-to-anger boss when a deadline is missed.

Though a 2 or 3-year old’s tantrum may look a little different, a tantrum is a tantrum, regardless of age, and it’s never pretty. And mostly, it’s completely unproductive.

As a parent, we’re encouraged to “just ignore the tantrum” and let it pass on its own. By not giving the child the attention they’re seeking, they learn that an outburst is not the way to 1) get what you want and 2) a productive way to communicate.

As an adult, however, what do we do when we encounter another adult who is having a tantrum? Do we walk away? Just ignore it? Jump in to assist the victim of the temper? Try to talk to the person having the tantrum to help them become aware of their actions?

I recently read a paper about childhood tantrums and one line really stood out to me: “Frustration is a perplexing foe of learners of all ages…suggestions…won’t help, because the child’s feelings have overwhelmed his ability to think.”

Sound familiar?

Everyone gets frustrated; that’s a normal part of being human. Sometimes being frustrated can be exacerbated by being tired or hungry, (hangry is a real thing in our house), but it’s the response to the frustration you feel that separates the self-aware from the self-unaware. The self-aware person can recognize that they are frustrated and upset. They can determine if it’s a real emotion or one that is enhanced because of being tired or being hungry. They may take a breath, walk away, ask for help, have a snack or try some other calming method.

The self-unaware person reacts, letting emotions take control. They yell, cry, throw things or start fights. They don’t intentionally choose to manage what they’re doing and may, after the fact, lament their behavior.

The self-aware person responds, intentionally choosing what they will do next.

The self-unaware person reacts, losing control and letting their emotions dictate their behavior.

The next time you find yourself on the verge of a tantrum, stop and notice what’s going on with you and what’s happening around you. This is the first step to becoming self-aware, to wisely choose your next action.

Call it what you want, but a tantrum is a tantrum, regardless of the age. Be self-aware. Be-self-managed. Be emotionally intelligent.

Take Action
Stop and notice how you handle aggravation, frustration and disappointment. How will you remember to pause so you can control what you do next? Notice the response from those around you as you do this; it’s an encouraging reminder to keep doing it.

Though this may be a little advanced for a 2-year old to comprehend (remember the meltdown about the extra cracker for his brother?), an adult with the ability to think logically and with reason should remember to have control over their emotions and the ability to act with intention. Consider this before you allow your emotions to take charge.

By Kristin Allaben

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