Four Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Ignore or Punish Toddler Tantrums

by Sarah Ockwell-Smith


Popular parenting wisdom advises dealing with toddler tantrums in one of two ways. Ignore the ‘attention seeking behaviour’ and reward the toddler when they are good, or discipline the toddler by punishing them through exclusion. The naughty step and time out are commonplace in millions of homes around the world. Do they really work though? Child psychology and neuroscience says otherwise. Here are four reasons why you may want to reconsider your response the next time your toddler has a tantrum.


1. Toddlers can’t help tantruming.

Toddlers tantrum for one simple reason, their brains are not like adults. The immature connections in their brain don’t afford them the same emotion control as us. Our sophisticated brains allow us to control our impulses, act in a way that we know to be socially acceptable and calm our emotions before we become violent or out of control. Toddlers physically can’t do this. When they tantrum they are not being naughty or manipulative, they’re just being toddlers struggling with big feelings, poor communication skills and even poorer emotion regulation skills. To us it may seem ridiculous to tantrum over the colour of a cup or the shape sandwiches are cut into, but to a toddler these things are as important as paying our rent or our mortgage is to us. Just because it’s not ‘big stuff’ to us, it doesn’t mean it isn’t to the toddler.

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why being a mom is enough.

by Rachel at Finding Joy

I’m talking about simply being a mom.

I’m talking about getting up in the morning, slapping your face with water, looking in the mirror, sighing, brushing your teeth (maybe), and picking up that toddler and wandering into the kitchen and pouring cereal in bowls, rinsing dishes, kissing the top of their head, and waiting for your coffee to brew.

There isn’t much glamour.

There is you. You giving of yourself. Minute, by minute, by minute, by minute until those hours add up to create a day which adds up to create a week which adds up to create a month which adds up to create years which add up to create a life. A beautiful life filled with ordinary enough mom moments.

Somehow in this mixed up media world of things to do and places to go and dreams to follow the beauty of simply being a mother is completely lost.

Being a mom is enough.

It’s enough, I say.

Sometimes we want to look to those big things and use them as a grade for success. We look at the cool science fair projects where our child got the blue ribbon. But, honestly, we miss the hours of interacting and holding glue sticks and looking up things and laughing side by side. We want the trips to Disney or American Girl Doll and discount the time spent in the backyard. The bar of success and joy and happiness gets pushed so high by culture that the little things, the enough mom moments, are lost.

Do you know what matters?

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Know a parent who is struggling? Here are 8 ways to help.


Whether your friend has had a miscarriage, found out her child has autism, or is struggling through a spouse’s deployment overseas with a newborn at home (been there, done that!), it’s easy to misstep when you are trying to help.

The most common well-meaning offense is the vague, “Let me know how I can help.” It’s better to make a tangible and real offer of something specific, so you’re not putting the weight of decision-making on someone who’s already burdened. The best way to help is to say something very specific, such as “Are you allergic to anything? I’m bringing you dinner,” or “When can I watch your kids so you can go get groceries? Tuesday?”

As I write this, my husband, a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves, is doing his annual training for a month away from me and our two toddlers. Our air conditioning broke during a humid heat wave and I twisted my ankle. We live in the Midwest and our families are on both coasts, so I flew with the kids to see grandparents for two weeks but now I’m home and leaning heavily on friends. Certainly, there are those who fare worse. But if you have someone in your life who could use a little help (and love!), here are a few ideas.

Do your research. Is your friend the kind of person who loves surprises or prefers planned things? What is on her wish list (quality time; gifts; words of affirmation; acts of service; hugs)? Does she like watching movies? Taking baths? Time alone at the gym? Does she have a public wish list on a shopping website? Have a conversation about what can be helpful for her so you are assisting in ways that speak to her specifically. A couple of years ago, soon after my husband returned from Afghanistan, a neighbor learned that we had never had a Christmas tree in our five years of marriage — couldn’t afford it, didn’t have the appropriate accoutrements — and left a fully decorated tree on our deck for us to find. It’s hard to top her gesture, but she couldn’t have done it if she hadn’t done some research.

Pop over with a treat. Drop off a favorite coffee drink one morning. Call in the afternoon for a dinner order and pick it up from a local takeout place. Hand off home-cooked freezer meals or pre-peeled and sliced healthy finger foods — because it’s nice to have carrot sticks and cheese slices in lieu of junk food sometimes. Or drop off a DVD rental or flowers. These small gestures can carry someone through a tough day.

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Fred Rogers on Tragic Events

fredrogersWhen I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”


Tragic Events

In times of community or world-wide crisis, it’s easy to assume that young children don’t know what’s going on. But one thing’s for sure — children are very sensitive to how their parents feel. They’re keenly aware of the expressions on their parents’ faces and the tone of their voices. Children can sense when their parents are really worried, whether they’re watching the news or talking about it with others. No matter what children know about a “crisis,” it’s especially scary for children to realize that their parents are scared.

Some Scary, Confusing Images

The way that news is presented on television can be quite confusing for a young child. The same video segment may be shown over and over again through the day, as if each showing was a different event. Someone who has died turns up alive and then dies again and again. Children often become very anxious since they don’t understand much about videotape replays, closeups, and camera angles. Any televised danger seems close to home to them because the tragic scenes are taking place on the TV set in their own livingroom. Children can’t tell the difference between what’s close and what’s far away, what’s real and what’s pretend, or what’s new and what’s re-run.

The younger the children are, the more likely they are to be interested in scenes of close-up faces, particularly if the people are expressing some strong feelings. When there’s tragic news, the images on TV are most often much too graphic and disturbing for young children.

“Who will take care of me?”

In times of crisis, children want to know, “Who will take care of me?” They’re dependent on adults for their survival and security. They’re naturally self-centered. They need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe. They also need to hear that people in the government and other grownups they don’t eveen know are working hard to keep them safe, too.

Helping Children Feel More Secure

Play is one of the important ways young children have of dealing with their concerns. Of course, playing about violent news can be scary and sometimes unsafe, so adults need to be nearby to help redirect that kind of play into nurturing themes, such as a hospital for the wounded or a pretend meal for emergency workers.

When children are scared and anxious, they might become more dependent, clingy, and afraid to go to bed at night. Whining, aggressive behavior, or toilet “accidents” may be their way of asking for more comfort from the important adults in their lives. Little by little, as the adults around them become more confident, hopeful and secure, our children probably will, too.

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7 Hurtful Ways We Respond to Our Child’s Emotions (and what to say instead)

Our words become our child’s inner voice. They internalize how we respond and react to their behavior and reactions. As adults, it is our job to see the feelings behind the actions, but because this rationale wasn’t always modeled for us, we are stuck in a cycle of being in our own version of the “child mind.” This is no one’s fault, just something to be aware of when interacting with our children. Breaking a cycle is hard, therefore no one is going to be 100% perfect 100% of the time. Awareness is key and it only becomes problematic when we don’t take responsibility for how we respond, blaming them and actually believing that the issue is with them and not us.

Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of ‘The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children‘, states that:

“The more we hone this ability to meet life in a neutral state, without attributing “goodness” or “badness” to what we are encountering, but simply accepting its as-is-ness, the less our need to interpret every dynamic as if it were about us. Our children can then have their tantrums without triggering us, and we can correct their behavior without dumping on them our own residual resentment, guilt, fear, or distrust.”

Most of us take our child’s behavior personally, as if what they are doing is being done to us. Our children are their own beings with their own feelings and experiences as small people trying to navigate a big, new world.  How we respond to their tantrums, cries, outbursts and unfavorable actions makes all the difference in how they process it and how they will process such hardships in the future. We have a couple of options. We can respond in a way that promotes disconnection, which only creates more stress for our child. OR we can respond in a way that fosters connection, which creates a sense of safety for them to healthily process their emotions. I have come up with seven examples of how we respond in ways that create disconnection and some tips for what we can say instead.

1) Blame. “You are making me crazy.” 

I will start off by admitting that I have uttered this one, except my version was, “you are driving me nuts.” I knew it wasn’t true, as in, I knew it wasn’t my son that was driving me nuts. I was already feeling stressed and overwhelmed about things that I can’t even recall anymore and he was simply triggering it all. That is the thing to remember: It is never their fault. They are not trying to drive us insane. Can parenting be overwhelming? Absolutely, but it is still important to never take it out on your child. They are trying to get legitimate needs met and yes, sometimes (ok, a lot of times) it is more than one person can handle, but always take care of yourself and try to refrain from blaming them for your stress. This sends the message that they are too much. That they want too much, need too much and feel too much. This isn’t true. They are perfectly them, and it is okay that we feel overwhelmed by it as parents living in a society that worships  isolation. What is not okay is that we blame it on our children who never asked to be a part of it.

Instead try:  “I hear you that you are upset. We all have the feels today, huh?”

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Nine Tips for Talking to Kids about Trauma

From Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley,

By Kira M. Newman | November 30, 2015

Just because children aren’t talking about a tragedy doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it, experts say. They may sense your discomfort and not want to upset you by bringing it up, or they may be too overwhelmed by their own feelings to express them.
“Without factual information, children (and adults) ‘speculate’ and fill in the empty spaces to make a complete story or explanation,” explains psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry in a guide for the nonprofit Child Trauma Academy on “Helping Traumatized Children.” “In most cases, the child’s fears and fantasies are much more frightening and disturbing than the truth.” As soon as the child asks questions or seems to be thinking about the event, it’s time to have a conversation, Perry advises.
Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR), in a guide called “Talking with Children about War and Violence in the World,” suggests that children as young as four or five can benefit from talking about the event. To open up the conversation, you might start with questions like these:
“How do you feel about what’s happening in the world?”
“What are you or your friends thinking and talking about in terms of the world situation?”
“Are you and your friends talking about what happened in Paris? I’d be really interested in hearing about what you think. Let me know if you want to talk.”

Tragedy can rattle our sense of safety, and our children’s. One goal of this conversation is to provide them with the reassurance that:
Things will get better.
You will be there for them.
They can ask you questions anytime.
They are safe, and so are the people they care about.
To make your reassurances more believable, you can point out some of the safety measures that are being taken, like explaining what security guards do. “Children need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe. They also need to hear that people in the government and other grownups they don’t even know are working hard to keep them safe, too,” reads a quote from Fred “Mister” Rogers on his website, which contains a section dedicated to helping children after tragic events.

Although we always want to be good listeners for our children, it’s especially crucial in the wake of traumatic events. That means giving them our full attention, and not jumping to judge or minimize what they’re saying-no matter how silly or illogical it may seem. For example, if a child is afraid that every plane overhead carries a bomb, it might be better to say, “I understand why you’re scared, but actually…” instead of stuttering out a horrified “No, of course not!”
“By your ability to listen calmly, even to concerns which might seem unrealistic, you communicate that their fears are not too frightening to deal with,” the ESR guide explains.
If children’s fears sound vague or jumbled, parents can help by gently summarizing what they’re hearing: “It sounds like what you’re feeling is…” A few clarifying questions can also help:
“That’s interesting, can you tell me more about that?”
“What do you mean by…?”
“How long have you been feeling…?”

By listening, parents can discover the snippets and rumors that their children have already absorbed about a tragedy. If it’s unclear, a simple “What have you heard about this?” should do the trick.
A key purpose of this conversation is to correct any misconceptions children may have picked up while at the same time offering more concrete information. You can tailor the level of detail depending on their age and how many unanswered questions are weighing on their minds.
Some of those questions may be tricky to answer-and in that case, ESR suggests responses like these:
“I don’t know the answer to that and I’m not sure anyone does. I do know, however, that many thoughtful people throughout the world are working hard to understand this issue.”
“That’s an interesting question, and I don’t know the answer. How can we find that out together?”
“The process of figuring out where to get the information, and going through the steps to obtain it, can be a powerfully reassuring experience for children, especially when a trusted adult participates with them,” the guide explains. “In a small but significant way, this experience can demonstrate for young people that there are orderly ways to go about solving problems and that the world is not beyond our understanding.”

Sadness, anxiety, fear, stress, even excitement-all feelings are possible in response to tragedy and violence. Whatever children are feeling, Mister Rogers encouraged parents to show understanding and acceptance:
“If we don’t let children know it’s okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they do feel that way,” he said. “If we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.”
We might even encourage children to express their feelings in a non-verbal way, through drawing, writing, singing, or play.

Experts seem to agree that sharing your feelings with your child can be beneficial, with some caveats.
First, you want to communicate that you can handle whatever it is you’re feeling. “[Children] get a chance to see that even though upset, you can pull yourself together and continue on. Parents hear it often: Be a role model. This applies to emotions, too,” explain the experts at the American Psychological Association in their guide on how to talk to children about difficult news and tragedies. (If your anger or worries threaten to overwhelm you or distract you from your child, you might not be ready to have this conversation yet.)
Another risk is that your feelings might add to or replace the ones children are already experiencing.
“A serious pitfall is that we might burden them with our adult concerns, raising new questions and fears for them, rather than helping them deal with questions and fears they already have,” explains the ESR guide. “We might simply find ourselves talking over their heads, answering questions that weren’t asked, providing information that isn’t useful, satisfying our need to ‘give’ children something rather than satisfying their need to be heard and understood.”
As a result, ESR suggests limited expressions of emotion, such as, “You seem sad when we talk about this. I feel sad, too.” This approach avoids the pitfalls mentioned above while demonstrating acceptance, showing empathy, and not denying what you’re feeling.

Where there is tragedy, there is also heroism-acts by police officers, doctors, or ordinary citizens that restore our faith in humanity right when it is shaken. The forces of good spring into action with their love, support, and generosity. In Paris, for example, many restaurant and shop owners opened their doors and sheltered pedestrians as the attacks were going on and through the night.
A quote from Mister Rogers is often cited after tragedies to make this point beautifully:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers-so many caring people in this world.”

Entire systems exist for this very purpose, such as the Red Cross or the study of earthquake-proof architecture. The University of Michigan Health System encourages parents to use tragedy as an opportunity to educate kids on all the ways people are working to keep us safe. The message is: There are good people all around you.

When we feel the pain of others, compassion motivates us to help and to transform that pain into a feeling of connection and support. Encouraging kids to do something about what they’re feeling can give them an outlet and restore their sense of control.Some suggestions might include:
Writing letters to victims and their families.
Sending thank you notes to doctors, paramedics, firefighters, or police.
Setting up a community study group to learn more about the issue.
Organizing a town meeting to create an action plan.
Writing a letter to the editor.
Raising money for charity.
“You can help children find a way to step out of their position of powerlessness. You can tell them honestly that their concerns are quite healthy because people’s concern is the first step toward doing something to make the world safer,” explains the ESR guide.
9. Know when to seek outside help
What does a “normal” reaction to tragedy look like?
There may be no normal, but experts seem to agree that if more than three months have passed and your child is still suffering-from anxiety, distraction, fear, hopelessness, sleep problems, nightmares, sadness, angry outbursts, or headaches-it might be time to consult a mental health professional. Every child is different, and how she reacts will depend on factors such as how close to home the tragedy was, whether she was traumatized in the past, and her general level of mental health.

What does a “normal” reaction to tragedy look like?
There may be no normal, but experts seem to agree that if more than three months have passed and your child is still suffering-from anxiety, distraction, fear, hopelessness, sleep problems, nightmares, sadness, angry outbursts, or headaches-it might be time to consult a mental health professional. Every child is different, and how she reacts will depend on factors such as how close to home the tragedy was, whether she was traumatized in the past, and her general level of mental health.