How do you handle tantrums?

July 28, 1998Cloud-Townsend ResourcesParentingComments Off on How do you handle tantrums?

Cheryl was at the end of her rope. Eleven-year-old Nathan threw tantrums when he was frustrated. Tantrums at that age could be scary. He would yell at her, stomp, slam doors, and sometimes throw things. Yet Cheryl thought, He needs a place to let out those bottled-up feelings, or they’ll eat him up inside. So she would let Nathan “express himself,” or she would try to soothe and calm him. But his behavior escalated over time. Finally, a friend told her, “You’re training him to be a male rageaholic.” Stunned, she got some advice.

With a little help, Cheryl changed her approach to Nathan’s rage attacks. She told him, “I know things make you angry, and I feel for your frustration. Things do get to all of us. But your feelings are disturbing me and the rest of the family. So here’s what we’ve come up with. When you’re mad, you can tell us you’re angry. We want you to be honest with your feelings. And if it’s about us, we will sit down and try to resolve the problem. But yelling, cursing, stomping, and throwing aren’t acceptable. If those happen, you’ll need to go to your room without phone, computer or music until you can be civil. Then, for the minutes that you’ve disrupted the family, you’ll need to do that many extra minutes of housework. I hope we can help you with these feelings.”

Nathan didn’t believe Cheryl at first, but she stuck to her guns. He escalated his disruptive behavior for a while (parents, expect escalation; kids need to make sure you’re serious), but Cheryl followed through with the consequences. She was tremendously anxious about this part, as she feared that Nathan would no longer have an outlet for his feelings. Would he blow up even more intensely? Would his spirit be quenched or broken?

Neither actually happened. After his initial period of protest, Nathan settled down. His tantrums became less intense and further apart. He began to bring his problems to Cheryl as problems, not as crises, and to work them out with her. What was happening inside Nathan is that he was becoming the master of his emotions. He was using feelings in the ways for which God created them: as signals about the state of our soul. He could be angry, but instead of having the emotion carry him out of control, he would identify the source of anger and solve whatever problem in life had led up to it. Nathan was beginning to own one of his treasures: his feelings.

From Boundaries with Kids by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Zondervan, 1998.

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