Anatomy of a Tantrum

I have officially experienced a knock-down, drag out tantrum!  My first child has never been one to have "physical" tantrums.  She can certainly throw down an "emotional" tantrum with the best of them.  

"What is the difference?", you may ask.  Well, an emotional tantrum falls into the category where there is lots of crying, lots of screaming and lots of emotion coming from the child.  In my house, it is often in the form of very loud crying/screaming from the said child's bedroom.  It gets louder and louder, and will be accompanied by coughing and sounds that are pretty much what I picture being sounds that are made when one is on their death bed.  Whereas, the physical tantrum very well may have all the components of the emotional tantrum, but along with that, you will see  a total loss of the ability to stand on one's feet.  Oddly enough, there is a heightened ability to kick with those same feet.  There is often flailing of the arms as well, and some head pounding for good measure.  A more mellow version of the physical tantrum is what I like to call, "I must sit down firmly to show my displeasure."  -The child who is upset chooses to plunk down onto their bottom with with an exaggerated PLUNK and often a cry of displeasure.  

I experienced a full on physical tantrum coming from my 2 year old son this morning because I would not let him hold my mug of steaming hot coffee.  I know, I know, I am a very mean mom! Despite my explanation of, "no, the coffee is hot" and repeated offers of his sippy cup containing an appropriate beverage for a 2 year old, he was so angry that he first hit himself in the head, then he was angry with the pain from hitting himself in the head, and decided to turn into the exorcist child and fell to the floor and began to kick the floor and scream at the top of his lungs.  I walked away and after about 5 seconds of screaming, he came to find me in the other room and gave my legs a big hug, looked up at me and said, "coffee - hot."  He was over it!

As frustrating as tantrums can be for me to navigate, they are really sort of a healthy reminder of what it looks like to vent as people dealing with emotional ups and downs in life.  I mean, on the one hand, they are this very irrational display of "pure" frustration.  There is no reasoning, there is no discussion, etc.  But, on the other hand, at least with my kids, once the tantrum is out of their system, and they see that the "display" is not getting them what they want, it is over.  They have expressed their displeasure, and they can now move on with life.

While I do not think that we should all go about our days having tantrums (although, it would be really funny to watch!  -Picture an employee going in to the boss' office to ask for a raise, not getting it, and then choosing to just sit on the boss' floor with a loud cry!), I do think that we can borrow from our children's example and truly learn to deal with our emotional disappointments in the moments that we are experiencing them.  I think that most of us have learned to "stuff" our emotional upsets into some deep place within and then only have a tantrum when that little compartment gets so full that we cannot help but explode - with anger, with great disappointment, with judgement, with lots and lots of crying, etc.  What a better world this would be, what truly more peaceful people we would be if we learned to share our frustrations and emotions in appropriate ways in the moment, or at least close to the moment!  

I dare us to try this with our spouses and loved ones:  to take on the challenge to strive to share our frustrations, fears and hurts that are related to them as they happen.  Maybe this looks like a daily debrief, or maybe this looks like an in the moment debrief.  My husband and I have found that having a more "daily debrief" is helpful.  There is a book called, Let Love Change Your Life, by Roger Tirabassi, that has given us these simple steps to follow.  

It is called the Daily 4 A's and Roger writes this about it:

"This is a short 3-minute drill.  It helps to affirm each other every day.  IN addition, it allows you to bring a hurt up without a full-blown conflict resolution time.  Responding without defensiveness, just saying we are sorry for hurting the other person.  It is like a daily vitamin pill."

The Daily 4 A's:

1. Affirmation
-I appreciated today when you...
-Thank you for...
2. Affection
-a hug, kiss, a touch...
3.  Apology
-I felt ___________ when you...
-Is there anyway I irritated, frustrated or hurt you today?
-I'm sorry for having made you feel ________________...
-Will you forgive me?
4.  Amen
-Ask your partner if there is anything special you can pray for them.

I will not say that Drew & I have gotten to the place where we are doing this every day, 365 days per year.  But, I will say, that when we are doing it regularly, it fosters a sense of connection between us and really does allow us to take care of all the minor "bumps and bruises" that happen as you walk the marriage journey and parent together.  By taking care of the little frustrations and little hurts as they are happening, we have far less of the big explosions that start with phrases like, "You always..."  As awkward as it can be to initiate conversations like this, it is a super helpful tool.  What I love most about it, is that there are often days where neither of us has any sort of frustration or hurt to share, but going through the steps provides us a moment to affirm the other one (step #1).  In the hustle and bustle of parenting and all that is involved in that endeavor, we often forget to acknowledge those things and moments that we appreciate.  I have an incredible husband and I love that by doing this I am reminded to tell him that I appreciate the way he plays with the kids in the back yard while I finish dinner, or how I see him intentionally loving on our daughter and taking time to speak words of kindness to her soul, or how him offering to hang with the kids on his own while I steal away for a few quiet minutes to take a shower or run an errand, etc. is the best thing in the whole wide world!  It just keeps us connected in a season of life that can sometimes feel very frantic and busy and disconnected.

If I figure out how to make tantrums disappear from the child experience, I will let you know. Until then, may the force be with you.



  1. Some brilliant insights in this post, thanks for sharing!

  2. I so appreciate this. There's a whole lot of helpful information right here in one post. Thank you!

  3. I am happy to report that my husband and I have been doing the 4 A's every night since we got married 2 weeks ago per advice from this blog. We are loving it. I am sure we are going to fall down on the job here and there but it's so rewarding after our long days to come together and say thank you and sorry and pray together. God moves amazingly in these times for us! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Ali is Amazing!! such wonderful simple ideas.. thanks..!!


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