May 9, 2012

What's In a Tantrum?

As toddlers everywhere are screaming bloody murder, destructing living rooms, attempting to escape car seats and harassing their siblings, their frazzled parents are on the verge of experiencing meltdowns of their own. After "trying everything," parents still can't seem to put an end to their children's exasperating behaviors. Difficult as it may be, understanding what lies behind these actions is the key to finding the solution that will help bring peace to everyone within earshot.

Dr. Thomas Gordon said that "all behaviors are solutions to human needs." When parents begin to understand and accept this basic principle, things might start to get a bit clearer. If all of our behaviors are expressions or attempts to fulfill an inner need, then what's in a tantrum?

Gordon wrote: "Children don’t misbehave. Their behaviors are simply actions they have chosen to meet these important needs. These principles suggest that all children’s actions are behaviors. Viewed in this way, all day long a child is behaving, and for the very same reason all other creatures engage in behaviors–they are trying to get their needs met. 

This does not mean, however, that parents will like all the behaviors their children engage in. Nor should they be expected to, for the children are bound to do things that sometimes produce unacceptable consequences for their parents. Kids can be loud and destructive, delay you when you’re in a hurry, pester you when you need quiet, cause you extra work, clutter up the home, interrupt your conversation, and break your valuables.

Think about such behaviors this way: they are behaviors children are engaging in to meet their needs. If at the same time they happen to interfere with your pursuit of pleasure, that doesn’t mean children are misbehaving. Rather, their particular way of behaving is unacceptable to you. Don’t interpret that children are trying to do something to you–they are only trying to do something for themselves. And this does not make them bad children or misbehaving children. But it may cause you a problem.

An infant cries because she is hungry or cold, or in pain. Something is wrong; her organism needs something. Crying behavior is the baby’s way of saying, “Help.” Such behavior, in fact, should be viewed as quite appropriate (“good”), for the crying is apt to bring the child the help that is needed." 

When seeing children as a fellow human being who is doing whatever means necessary to get his or her needs met, you might be inclined to find out what the child's need really is. Your child is not throwing a fit in order to frustrate you. On the contrary, your child inherently wants your approval and acceptance. Since children are dependent creatures who rely on external assistance in getting their needs met, denying them of such would simply be cruel. 

Could it be that they refuse to wear shoes because they're causing pain? Might they stretch and pry out of their high chair because they want their bottle they see sitting at the other end of the table? Do they hate taking showers because it reminds them of the time that they slipped and fell?

Let them be the ones to tell you. How? Start by Active Listening.

More on Active Listening to very young children can be found in Chapter Five of the P.E.T. Book.

What do you think? Let us know!

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1 comment:

  1. what if your childs'need is being angry and wanting something that is not good for them but they cannot accept it also after explaining it..?
    i find it hard to give in to the need when my son doesnt want to leave me alone in his anger..
    do i need to confirm his need of being angry more?
    when in tantrum he does not hear?!


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