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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Preschool Pointers - 36: Love the Tantrum

I'm in a complicated phase with one of my little girls. She is dying for approval, and goes about getting it by acting out. Which means I can't give it to her. Which spirals her out of control, because she just wants me to love her GAWD. It's a horrid cycle and I'm looking for ways to break it. In that vein...


Your child is a perfectionist. Not only that but she wants to hear about how awesome she is all the time. If you don't tell her, she assumes she's crap at everything, no good, and no one loves her. She holds herself up to insurmountable standards, and when she fails herself, she feels that pain so deeply, her emotions overwhelm her and she tantrums, yells, cries, screams or even physically lashes out. This can be over anything from coloring outside the lines, to wearing her shoes on the wrong feet to any other tiny little thing you can think of. Then she sees herself tantruming and tantrums again because she's tantruming. She's that disappointed in herself. Then her whole day is ruined because she refuses to give herself a break. One of these in the morning, and she's done for the day because "she hasn't been good the whole day." Her whole life depends on this strange definition of continual goodness that will or will not win your approval. And you swear to God, you didn't do this to her. You do everything you can to instill in her that she is good, behavior notwithstanding, and that you love her no matter what.


I don't know. Honestly, we've been grappling with this on and off for years.

The best I can say is to not allow yourself to play into it. My daughter can get downright nasty and push my buttons, not because she's sociopathic, but the opposite. On some level she wants me to feel the frustration she is feeling. She is simply doing the best she can to express herself so that I totally get the level on which she is standing. But if I allow her to get to me, if I allow myself to get frustrated, then we both just have tantrums and nothing gets better. She's looking for approval and love. I give her this all the time, but she needs it more, she especially needs it when she's being horrific. So, I advise not playing into the tantrum at all as it happens. Hug your kid. Be prepared to be beaten up for a few seconds before she calms down.

After you are out of the situation is the time to talk about it. You will not be able to get through to her what you need and want at the time. She's too far gone, and every move you make is boiled down to this level: Do you love me, or don't you?

Another important thing to do is to try to stop it at the beginning of the spiral. You have to be on your game for this. Because sometimes, the signs are so subtle you don't even know what's about to happen. When she repeats herself to you and changes her tone ever so slightly, when she gets one thing wrong or does something she's not pleased with, pay attention. Give her validation immediately, and converse with her to open up her brain pathways into language. For my child, her emotions are so strong, she's like a slave to them, but if you can get to her core before her feels do, you can help guide her through.

It puts you both on the same side, fighting her tyrannical emotions, as opposed to her and her emotions fighting you.

That's all I've got. It's a work in progress.



  1. My girl is like this sometimes, especially with the tantrum ultimately being anger at herself for throwing a tantrum. She definitely has some perfectionist tendencies and does not accept correction or making a mistake very well. I've told her some of the same things you said above - of course you are good, you don't have to be perfect, everybody makes mistakes, I love you no matter what you do. Getting her to believe that, of course, is a different question.

    I have had some success pointing out to her my own mistakes. She went through a phase of freaking the heck out any time she couldn't read a word (learning to read at the moment), so one time I (genuinely) misread a word while reading out loud to her, corrected myself, then stopped and told her: "OHHHH! I'm so silly, I read the wrong word! I thought it was --, but it was really --! (groan) See, even I still make a mistake reading sometimes, and I've known how to read for a long time." That actually really seemed to encourage her. I have pointed out other mistakes I make, too, like putting something in the wrong place. Sometimes I pretend to have a screaming fit about it :)

    Otherwise I'm playing it as I go the same as you...

  2. This sounds really difficult to deal with. But you are an awesome mommy. An INCREDIBLE mommy really.



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