Does every little thing seem to spark a tantrum or meltdown? Read on for ideas of what message they may be sending. It may be different than what you think!
Just like the body’s immune system, a relationship’s immune system can get out of balance. This can be from stress, lack of sleep, over-commitment, lack of attention, or other factors. Our bodies “tell” us when we’re at risk for getting sick by producing symptoms of excessive tiredness, aches and pains, or a low grade fever. Children let us know when our relationship with them is out of balance by acting out, including regular tantrums, meltdowns over “nothing,” or exhibiting defiance at even the most benign requests. These regular tantrums are children’s efforts to send us a message: “Our relationship is out of balance. Do something!”
When I say that a child is trying to send us a message, I’m not saying that he or she is consciously thinking about it. However, while children may not know what’s wrong on a conscious level, they do know it intuitively. I say this because when the imbalance is addressed, then the behavioral issues tend to melt away. I have found four common messages that children try to convey through regular tantrums:
A Call for Boundaries:
Children often send out a Call for Boundaries when their parents fall too far into the permissive side of parenting. This can happen when adults work very hard at being responsive to a child, but then do not expect and/or support their child to be responsive in return. When this happens, we end up with a little dictator. Some children are quite happy to be little dictators, and are generally content as long as everything goes their way. More often though, these children seem like they’re never satisfied, and even very little things can set them off.
A Call for Affection:
Another way the relationship can get out of balance is by the adult not being responsive enough. Sometimes we have understandable reasons for having lowered our levels of responsiveness: a new baby or a health issue can make it hard to be responsive. So can increased responsibilities at work, or relationship troubles with a spouse or partner. Regardless of the reason, our patience diminishes, and normal childlike behaviors start to annoy us. Our children feel our lack of positive engagement and respond by acting out, either in protest or because they’re willing to take negative interactions over a lack of engagement. This acting out causes us to feel justified in our annoyance, and children continue with ever-more-drastic measures to get us to engage with them. Eventually, we don’t enjoy spending time with them at all.
A Call for Consistency:
Most adults know that children like consistency, but it can be hard to realize just how important consistency is in order for children to function successfully. Researchers have found that children who live in home conditions that are highly disorganized and unpredictable are less curious and less apt to explore the environment. Research suggests that order and predictability in the environment may support motivation for both cognitive development and children’s abilities control themselves (self-regulation).
A Call to Slow Down:
Transitions are often the hardest parts of the day for any parent or caregiver. But if many transitions involve full-fledged meltdowns over the course of the day, or if every transition turns into a power struggle where you’re convincing, cajoling, or dragging your child every step of the way, then your child may be sending out a Call to Slow Down.
For more in-depth descriptions of each message, and step-by-step instructions on how to decode the message and respond constructively, you’ll have to wait for the release of my book Joyful Toddlers & Preschoolers: Melt Away Defiance and Strengthen Your Relationship. Due out Fall 2017 by Hohm Press. I’ve submitted my manuscript and am working on the editing process now!