For the month of February I am exploring my experiences with selective mutism. Yesterday I discovered something new to me – and wrote about the added element of speaking to people for the first time – and the anxiety that renews with each new person we meet. Today I am exploring the importance of temper tantrums – and its relevance to me and my selective mutism.
A fresh perspective
When I was small I found it really difficult to express my emotions. It was a symptom of my selective mutism – that I often couldn’t display the internal struggles that I was having. Living with this kind of turmoil is tricky. Instead of acting out when something triggered me emotionally, I would ‘act in’ instead. Thoughts and fears that I wasn’t able to express externally would bombard me, and my emotions would escalate inside.
I became a ticking time-bomb; I was full of emotions that were seeking release, but I felt incapable of expressing them.
I needed to explode – I needed a few tantrums to lessen my load. If I did let go like that, it would look completely irrational to anyone who was watching, but I would be giving myself what I needed to feel balanced and grounded in myself. If I felt acknowledged and supported in my tantrum, I would be given a safe way to let off steam. I would gradually feel much better in myself – and I would realise that it is possible to express my emotional load without terrible consequences. My anxiety would lessen, and life would feel easier.
“Don’t be silly!”
When a child becomes agitated and starts acting out over something that is totally irrational, it can be easy to step in from a logical perspective and tell them to ‘stop being silly!’
Those three words drive me crazy.
Yes, I can see the situation from a logical point of view – and yes, that tantrum is a complete over-reaction, but the last thing I would want if I was the child would be to have someone I love to tell me that I’m being silly. To me, there is nothing more insulting.
We need to feel safe to express ourselves
When my kids have tantrums, they are telling me that they have an overload of emotions inside of them that they don’t know how to deal with. In order to return to themselves, they need to express it – and so this tantrum, although illogical, is completely necessary.
My response is to love them. To be there for them. To give them space to act out, but boundaries to act inside of.
“YES! Scream and shout, but it’s not okay to hit Mum – here, hit this pillow instead!” In this way, the emotions flow. My children learn that it is safe to express themselves, however it is that they may be feeling.
I’ve been able to learn this alongside my kids – because I’ve experienced it with them.
When I was young, I understood that I had a potential eruption bubbling away inside of me. I was terrified of what might happen if I released it, and so I didn’t. As a consequence of not expressing my emotions freely when I was small, I found that the tantrums came when I was given a suitable role model to watch and learn from.
My daughter (and later my son).
I would watch incredulously as her two year-old body writhed on the floor, accompanied by screams, kicks and punches. And all because she had dropped her apple.
By observing my daughter I began to understand that I needed to feel safe enough to do that too. And sometimes I did.
I created safe boundaries for myself and over-reacted to the stimuli my kids would give me. I understood that this was old feelings, and not directly related to what they were doing, and so throughout my explosions I found a way of explaining to them that these emotions are nothing to do with what’s happening right now – it’s all old feelings that need to come out. And then I would thank my kids for letting me do that.
Perhaps this is not the best way to learn how to deal with emotions – but seeing as I didn’t do this when I was small, I’m so grateful to have been able to learn this alongside my kids.
Understanding versus acceptance
Tantrums, in my opinion, are impossible to understand. They do not make sense, because they come from a place deep inside of a person – a place which is overflowing with old emotion. Old emotion is illogical. It can be triggered from a minor event, and cause explosive reactions.
Whether we are onlookers or the ones acting out, I think it is vital that we don’t attempt to understand a tantrum.
Tantrums never make sense, in my opinion. Feelings aren’t logical, and so they release in ways that don’t always make sense. This doesn’t make them wrong, or silly … it just makes them, well, feelings.
We can try to understand our feelings – and in doing so push away any feelings that don’t make sense. Or, we can accept them. They may have arisen from any event in our lives – and so if they have been triggered, they are wanting to flow, and they are seeking their expression.
Accepting this makes a child’s tantrum so much easier to bear. Changing from the frustrated, logical perspective that fails to understand, to a new place of acceptance actually does bring understanding. It reminds us that these emotions are simply seeking their expression, wherever they may have come from.
In this way, a tantrum moves from being difficult to deal with to becoming a beautiful thing. It is something which enables a person to clear old emotion and become more balanced inside themselves.
I hope you have learnt something from this post – it certainly helped me to arrange my thoughts surrounding feelings. My fourth Katie-Jane book is due for release this coming August and will explore the subject of ‘dealing with emotions’. All of these books are written from the perspectives I have gained through my life and experiences with selective mutism, shyness and more. If you think your child might benefit from these stories, they are available to order here >>>
I’d love to hear your thoughts and techniques for dealing with tantrums – please comment below if you’d like to share, and do sign up to my newsletter to keep updated with new posts, special offers and new releases.