Redeeming Toddler Tantrums

Sometimes my child throws fits. Sometimes other children throw fits. You have seen it before either with your own kid or as a bystander. The child’s mouth opens wide and long, their eyes shut and chin lifts in the air. They let out an impossibly loud pterodactyl like noise and let their body go limp in protest of their current circumstances. Their faces turn red as tears slowly stream down their face in frustration. Their limbs may flail about or they may crumble to the ground like their bones turned in to spaghetti. You have got to think at some point they forget what they are even upset about.


Uncomfortable tantrums

This scene is something I really struggle with, tantrums make me very uncomfortable. I am uneasy that the child, mine or someone else, is uncontrollably upset and I empathize with the parent or caregiver trying to handle the situation. Most the time in our own family I just wish I could turn it off with the flip of a switch. Wave my wand and the fit would be gone. Maybe I shouldn’t let it affect me so much, but I am still learning. In all fairness, our little Anna is pretty well behaved and typically a pretty cheery girl, but we are not immune to these delicacies.

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A think the uncomfortableness I feel is payback for the record breaking fits I threw in my youth. I was a defiant kid, my mom can attest (hi mom), and I made my displeasure known, whether it was at Disney world, at a swim meet,  or over a meal. I was queen of the scream until your head hurts. Oh, but what an example my parents and even sisters set for me.  I have very vivid memories of my mom patiently and calmly removing me from the situation and letting me cry it all out. I know for a fact my parents missed out on many opportunities because they had to remove me during my fits. This could not have been fun, comfortable, or easy. 

What should we do?

I think it is safe to say no one likes it when a child (or an adult) throws a fit. So how do we handle this unpleasant inevitability? How can we redeem it in our own families and also in public? I have resolved that it is a great kindness to bear with a child in moments of weakness, frustration and anger. I have decided to press in to the uncomfortableness and be present. 

Just as you would sit at the side of a dying person, acknowledge the homeless man outside your door, or listen to a friend rant about trouble at work. None of these situations are fun, but they are praiseworthy nonetheless. So too is bearing with children as they handle emotionally high situations. (Although sometimes I feel like the I am the dying person in these situations.)

As far as parenthood goes this is an opportunity to practice a few of the Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offenses willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;

You may think it is extreme to compare a child’s bad behavior with legitament struggle. But it is okay to realize that relatively, for a child, this is a big deal. Young children struggle communicating and are still learning to how to cope with disappointment .This doesn’t mean they have a free pas of course, its are job to help teach them things, but it might take a while… even years.

Comforting the afflicted in these situations might look like a lot of different things. It could be calm detachment, a caring hug, or even physically restraining and carrying away a screaming child, but the fact that you are there and handling the situation is honorable and an act of service.

When it is my child, my job is often clear. Mean what I say, offer encouraging words and touches, distract, and when necessary crying babies go to bed.

But what about when it is only in passing? What should we do when we see another family? First and foremost, do not blame the child or the parent but instead use it as an opportunity to show that you think kids are awesome even in their hard moments.

Find ways to offer small help, maybe by opening the door, moving your group to the side, and/or not encouraging the behavior. Don’t just look the other way and ignore the family, but rather offer compassion and a smile. Yes it is uncomfortable, but showing up in the midst of unpleasant situations is a clear demonstration of love.

Just another opportunity that children give us to grow in holiness. Maybe we can all take a page from my parents playbook. Bear with children, give them grace, choose to offer your self in the depths of these relative despairs. Reclaim these unpleasant opportunities for God’s glory.

What are some of your tactics for handing uncomfortable circumstances?


Plus Pope Francis seems to love crying babies

  • “the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise.” -Pope Francis
  • “Children’s tears are the best homilies.”- Pope Francis

“No occupation in this world is more trying to soul and body than the care of young children. What patience and wisdom, skill and unlimited love it calls for. God gave the work to mothers and furnished them for it, and they cannot shirk it and be guiltless.” ― Isabella MacDonald Alden


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