Read it: Tears and Tantrums

I go through cycles as a parent when I feel unfettered and fabulous and others that leave me worried, ashamed and inept. The last few months have been the latter, and I’ve done what I usually do when I’m utterly baffled by raising my son–I place a minimum of 5 parenting books on hold at the library.

And then I cart them home. I read the first part of a few chapters of one and then they sit until I have to renew them. And they sit some more. When the final return date threatens, our house looks like a child development study hall after 8pm. I cram.

Last night I read through page 73 of this one:


It was recommended on my Facebook page by one of YOU, radical readers. I must say, it’s a real doosey.

The take home message: babies and kids need to cry and rage. A lot more than you might think. Solter’s main point that I’m digging is that there are many sources of stress in children’s lives, even if they’re well cared for. And that they have a few ways of resolving that accumulated stress: play, laughter, talking and crying or raging. Often, this stress builds up in their bodies over time, and a seemingly insignificant event, like being handed a broken cookie or having to put their shoes on, can trigger a crying fit or rage-a-thon. I love this, because it helps me feel more compassion when J flips out over the fact that I cut up the apple instead of leaving it whole. Sure. Maybe it really is all about the apple. But it could also be about a kid snatching a toy away from him at daycare yesterday. Or when I grabbed his arm and told him NO! when he was walking away from me in the parking lot that morning.

The way I understand it, it’s not that they are actively remembering the prior stress when they’re freaking out about the apple. Rather, their bodies remember, and they are trying, through tears or tantrums (!) to resolve that stress.

I relate to this book because I do the same thing. We’re in the midst of a big move. (Yes, escrow closed! And I’m excited not to need to use that word again for a long time.) I don’t do moves well. I’m pregnant. We have a very physical, rage-y toddler. So it is not uncommon, once we put J to bed, for me to sit on the couch, start talking with A, and when he looks at me in a particularly kind way, I’ll just lose it. Tears upon tears. And some sobbing. Little patches of snot on his shoulder. And then I heave a few sighs and feel better. Stress resolved. For the moment.

Solter tells stories of parents recognizing when their kids need to cry and holding them close, somewhat immobilizing them for a bit, and then they (the children) tumble into a sob festival. Afterwards, they’ll be all relaxed, sparkly and at ease. I actually tried to get J to cry this morning when we were playing before I dropped him off at daycare. He’d had a pretty surly morning, so I thought maybe we could sit down and have a good cry. I did the gentle hold. Told him it was okay for him to cry. And he did have a few half-hearted wails. And then asked if he could get down.

Maybe he didn’t need to cry? Perhaps he’s more of a rager. Sigh. Either way, it helps me to see the rage and tears as a way for him to relieve some built up pressure in his system. That way, I won’t get too fixated on the apple.

4 thoughts on “Read it: Tears and Tantrums

  1. There is something called “containment therapy”, With the waves of “oh don’t discipline kids THAT way” we’ve lost some discipline on the way.
    Anyway, when a child is out of control, you hold them. Not too tight, but they can’t escape. You are in control, You will take care of them. They cry, yell, tell you you’re hurting them (make sure you are not 🙂 and do not let them go until they are relaxed and loving. It’s important not to give up in the middle or it’s just worse for both of you 🙂
    Anyway, it’s along the lines of what you were mentioning, and it really does help. I have done it with all 3 children with various degrees of success. Only once or twice per child, since is quite an event and it can take hours to resolve.

    All that blabber to say, I think you are on the right track, congrats on the escrow closing! and let us know if there is anything we can do to help 🙂

  2. Oh beautiful mama woman we should talk! I have much on this topic, as I also have a rager. I thought the tantrums were big when he was 3. He’s 8 now…and his rages are big like him. It can be overwhelming in the moment to told him through the crying fit, but when he is out the other side his brain switches back on and is 10 times clearer than he was going in. The limbic portion of the brain is an amazing thing – just feed it lots of connection and somehow it does what it needs to for the rational mind to come back online. Then suddenly you can cut the apple sideways and they will be flexible 🙂

  3. My husband’s mom used to give her kids a “session” when they needed to cry or rage. The idea was to let them totally off-gas, “discharge” (I know, the word makes me cringe, too) and release all the feelings so they could move on. I don’t ascribe to this theory personally, mostly because her kids still seem pissed about the forced crying. That said, I just couldn’t agree more that kids need to rage…mine does. Every morning, these days. Breakfast helps. As does a patient mom. And yesterday I stuck a broken banana back together with tooth picks. It’s like I will try anything to avoid getting too deep into the rage. And yet, I also have success with just voicing the anger/sadness/frustration and allowing the rage to happen, holding him if he will allow it, staying close and maintaining contact if he won’t (interesting to read the process of the commenter ahead of me. I can see it and yet don’t force my kid to be held because since he was a baby being physically independent has kind of been his thing). Only sometimes, that doesn’t work, and though he is indeed frustrated, damned if he’ll admit it. The bottom line? Yes: he needs to rage. And some things that to us are incomprehensible (the broken banana/cookie) are such big fucking deals they could ruin the whole morning…eek! xo

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