Dealing with Terrible Tantrums

Recently my 2 1/2 year old son, Joss, went through a 10-day marathon of uber-tantrums.

Night and day, out of the blue tantrums terrorized us all. The worst were in the middle of the night, where I feel most unprepared to cope with a screaming child. Here is this little person throwing everything out of his bed — while kicking, flailing, screaming his head off.

I’m sorry, but having the ass of beanbag duckie hit me in the face — no matter how plush it might be — triggers my own anger and frustration, making me ready for a tantrum of my own. Not a good place to be (for either of us).

There are hundreds of articles about this subject online, including 121 on’s Tantrum page. So I’ll spare you a rehashing of the same old stuff. Since my son has not taken to throwing refrigerators (yet), I’m sure the sound advice on a trusted Web link will suffice.

Instead, I’d like to take the discussion to another level and question the very essence of a tantrum, and our role in them…’s article Taming Toddler Tantrums, raises some good points that I’d like to use as a springboard:

1) “Parents of toddlers need to keep one thing in mind when their child begins to have a tantrum: Your child can not help it
“When her [your child’s] frustration builds to a certain level, your toddler literally loses control.”
3) “If it’s frightening for you to see your toddler possessed by the demon of tantrum, think how she must feel.”

After reading this article I was reminded that my little boy is depending on me to set an example by keeping control of myself — but more importantly to take care of him.

There have been times where I’ve let him down. My results have been inconsistent — sometimes reacting with compassion and patience, other times losing my temper, being gruff and yelling (learn more about the adverse affects of yelling at kids here).

My worst moments happen when I’m tired and overwhelmed, which sounds a lot like how Joss is probably feeling when he’s having his worst moments. If I’m having trouble (and I’m a somewhat mature 40 year old), how hard must it be for him?

Simply put, it does not matter how tired I am, how stressed, etc. I’m supposed to be a grown up. This is my son’s life on the line! These are defining moments that will either help or hinder him for decades to come. This is serious stuff! Yes, kids are resilient. But they’re also sponges, delicate and in need of the tools required for a healthy life.

This is not “oh you’re doing your best, don’t beat yourself up” stuff. This is “you better get your shit together, or you might rob your son of his potential.”

Some may say that I am being too hard on myself, that I should give myself a break. I say that without a constant desire, coupled with taking the necessary actions to improve — how is that my best? My goal is to keep both of my sons’ potential intact, AND help it grow. If the mechanic fixed your car and then it blew up as you drove away, would he be told, “it’s OK, you did your best…” I don’t think so.

Sometimes our best sucks.

And that’s OK as long as we’re willing to do something about it and take responsibility for ourselves.

Switching gears (no car analogy intended):
The more I think about point #1 listed above: “Parents of toddlers need to keep one thing in mind when their child begins to have a tantrum: Your child can not help it,” the more I wonder if it’s completely true that the toddler can not help it. Because sometimes when Joss has a tantrum, I offer a consequence (like taking away a toy, or “no cookie for dessert unless you stop”) — and he stops. Within 5 seconds, he’s done. He can be reasoned with — sometimes.

Is there a tantrum threshold? A point of no return where reason is just too UN-reasonable for my little boy? If so, what am I missing? Because I can’t seem to tell the difference between the tantrum that can be reasoned with vs. the tantrum that has no chance of being reasoned with.

It could be that my limbic system (in the brain) is being “held hostage” by what it is interpreting as beratement, verbal violence, or something to that nature. Come to think of it, beanbag duckies’ ass hitting my face does feel like physical abuse. I find it very hard to detach myself emotionally from the tantrum. It’s like turning a 100-watt stereo up to full power and standing 6″ away from your premium subwoofer. As the beat rattles your bones and prepares to shatter your eardrums, how can one be expected to say, “dude that’s just really loud. It’s OK though, I won’t let it bother me…”

(NOTE: Joss’ tantrums coincided with a cold he was suffering from. Since he’s feeling better and getting more sleep, they’ve subsided — thank the Universe. The correlation is clear between the cold and the tantrums, and that’s something to keep in mind for the future.)

And remember, you are not alone…

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