Adults Have Tantrums, Too

Adults have tantrums too Maine Doulas.png

Adults still have tantrums, too. I mean, there are rarely tears streaming down a colleague's face with snot and fists tight, seething because he or she is overtired. But, as adults, we still fall prey to all the same things our kids are learning about daily: frustration, anger, disappointment, competitiveness, a growing sense of self-worth, jealousy, fear, shame, and loneliness.

Sure our tantrums are not rolling around on the ground, yelling and hitting our fists, but does this sound familiar?

You and a co-worker have the same responsibilities, but routinely, they do not complete them, and you are left to make sure things get finished. When you address it and ask, "Did you know you were supposed to do this?" Perhaps they say well, sure, but no one is really going to make me, so why bother?

Translation: Nanny Nanny boo boo, you can't make me!

Or this one...

A friend has been MIA for sometime, and upon reentry into life, it's hard to miss they have undergone a drastic change which enhances their appearance. Everyone wants to talk to them. To their face, the friend gives a compliment, but after he leaves, negative comments fly in the group. "It totally isn't natural, if you know what I mean."

Translation: You can have that toy, I didn't want to play with it anyway!!!


It isn't a seamless comparison, but the point is that adults aren't perfect, we still make mistakes, and we are not that great at regulating our emotions even when we know better.

The hard part about emotions is that they are real. Whenever we feel them, and in whatever form they take, they are real. Telling them to go away rarely ever works.

And as adults, this is with the benefit of having a fully developed frontal cortex that helps regulate our feelings and reactions!

When you have an 18-month old who does not want to wear gloves, it is tough to help them understand that in the winter in Maine, they need to wear gloves outside! Or, the daily trial of your child wanting something, and being frustrated they can't have it.

Our children are trying.

They are trying our nerves, but they are also trying. Trying out new skills. Trying out sounds and words. Trying out new choices and seeing what happens.

But when our kids get to the point where they are in a tantrum, it isn't like talking to an adult who makes a snide comment to a co-worker - you can't change their behavior by calling them on it. In fact, you can't do much.

The options many parents have tried when kids have meltdowns are:

1) screaming back at them

2) moving them to a different location to have their meltdown

3) stare at them and wait until they are done

4) love them through it

I had no idea what it meant to love someone through a meltdown until I experienced it. It was the first time I could see that my child had zero connection between her brain and her body when she was flopping on the floor.

There was nothing but anguish.

It wasn't done with malice.

She didn't have a goal in mind. She didn't even remember what the problem was in the first place.

She was overwhelmed, and I had a choice: I could leave her there to go through it alone, or I could stay and go through it with her.

It just so happened that day I had patience. It just so happened on that day I was rested, and able to turn off my parenting lessons, and I could sit with her while she was mad and sad.

Young children are not giving us a hard time. They are having a hard time. And any logic that we would use on another adult simply won't work, and it isn't appropriate.

Our kids are not co-workers, or friends, or strangers we meet in the community. They are future adults who have no clue how to exist in the world, and we are the people who help them.

Some days, we can say, "Please get down off the table." and they get down off the table. Easy! Some days, they stomp and scream, and buck when we move their body for them back onto the floor.

Part of me wonders what would happen the next time we caught an adult having a moment of being particularly unreasonable or crass, what if we responded like we do to young kids and ask instead,

"Wow, it sounds like you have some big things inside you that need to get out. Do you need a hug?"