Self Care and Tantrums – A RIE Chat Summary

(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)

Thank you to those who were able to make it last night. This has been a rather dark week for me, and as much as I counsel taking deep breaths, asking yourself what you want out of this experience, focusing on self-care…well I’m actually cycling in and out of the three areas of experiences in C-19…fear, learning, and growth…on a regular basis.

And these calls are as important to me as they are to you, they help me step out of fear and into growth.

And again: no guilt if you want to make it, but can’t, or just don’t want to. I’m here if you need me, and I’m here if you don’t.

Our conversations circled around the very real fears and worries we have about our current experiences and what the uncertain future holds for us and for our children. We talked about what helps (staying in the moment, focusing on work or something for yourself, and most importantly tremendously appreciating the opportunity for bonding with your children, really getting to know them more intimately than you’ve ever had the opportunity to do so before.)

We also talked…tantrums. Tantrums are definitely one of those things that would be happening in most of your lives right now, regardless of circumstances…but are also definitely one of those things that may be happening more because of the restrictions we’re all living under (I mean, I know they’re happening in my house more frequently…ahem). So let’s talk about what tantrums are.

Put simply, a tantrum happens when an overriding wish, want, or need is not granted or available, and instead of using logic to reply or self-control to keep the feelings of frustration and disappointment at bay, all of the anger, angst, despair, rejection, grief…comes pouring out, generally with little language and a lot of tears…sometimes hits or kicks….You get the idea….goodness knows I don’t have to describe them to you. But what’s really happening is the child is “unable to regulate his emotions and actions in that moment…he is enough out of sorts in his nervous system that he whines or doesn’t have the capacity to be flexible and manage his feelings in that moment” (No Drama Discipline, p. 85).

What do you need when that happens to you? Yes, sometimes getting your heart’s desire will arrest the tantrum and make everything right in the world…but sometimes you can’t give them that, and sometimes you really just know you shouldn’t. (And in fact, coming to terms with the fact that you can’t always get your way is a hard, but very important life skill….as well as important for being able to live a happy and fulfilled life.) And in any case, what you really need when the bottom drops out of your emotional world is love, connection, and empathy.

Simply being present with and connecting with your despairing or raging child, perhaps connecting with a gentle touch on the back or arm, and a calm and empathetic word here and there as they cry, is what they need. When your child is upset and dysregulated, the most important thing you can do is to get back in tune with them…this allows them “to ‘feel felt’ which is the inner sense of being seen and understood, which turns chaos into calm, and isolation into connection” (NDD, p. 68).

This is your primary goal when a child is tantruming*. Remember what I said about their nervous systems being out of whack…well, there’s no learning when you’re that upset. Once your child is calm and regulated, this is the time to set the limit or redirect the focus onto the next thing. Your path can be guided by thinking along the following…I want to HALT tantrums…is my child Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired (NDD, p. 72)? If so, what can I do to help move her out of those states?

*I think it is funny that my word processor doesn’t recognize “tantrum” as a verb that you can add “ing” to. Clearly, it has never met a toddler.

Now, that looks very lovely on the screen, does it not? It’s very hard to do this, though, and sometimes, to be honest, you may not FEEL like connecting or empathizing with your toddler. I encourage you to take a deep breath and try…empathize with yourself (mentally) first, but then go for that connection “not only because it can help us deal with the problem in the short term…not only because it will make your children better people in the long term…but also, and most important, because it helps us communicate how much we value the relationship” (NDD, p. 83).

Let’s talk about a specific issue that came up last night with two of the families…over-eating. Yes, over-eating in toddlers. One of Magda’s biggest lessons for parents was to allow children to find out for themselves what full means to them. She would often caution parents to not give children ‘one more bite’ than they asked for…and that’s part of what the practice is at snack in RIE class. It’s one of the reasons I only give children one bite at a time. But that said, toddlers are rapidly growing and eat often, and they, just like us, sometimes want to eat just because something tastes good, not really because they are hungry. It’s just one more thing to think about right now…and I wondered…I’ve heard from two…anyone else experiencing this at home?

Lastly, and most fun…I’ve created a google doc that I want to grow. It’s a list of activities (sorted into pages/categories) and ideas for you and your children…group sourced. If you need some ideas, check the page, if you have ideas, post on the page (or email me directly and I’ll post for you).

First up…a fun art exploration idea from Aurora! She got food coloring from Ralph’s and ordered condiment bottles from Amazon…her almost 2 year old spent over 45 minutes exploring the drips:

Check the google doc for more ideas and please do add to it! Let’s be a resources for one another!

Have a peaceful afternoon and hope to talk to you all again soon.