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Toddler Tantrums and Attachment Parenting

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Toddler Tantrums and Attachment Parenting

I was in the office of Dr. Natalie Henderson, our family’s psychologist the other day.  My almost three year old blew a gasket over the treats in the treasure box.  Full on melt down.  Screaming, crying, absolute heart break on his part because I wouldn’t let him trade in the harmonica he had just slobbered all over for a whistle.  Big stuff when you are three.  I wasn’t horrified however.  Here I was in a very pristine and professional atmosphere, which would normally have inspired me to scoop up the whole bundle of tantruming boy, and head straight out of the building to deal.  However something was different here, and upon reflection it is that thing that I find is missing just about everywhere else I have parented my young children.

Dr. Natalie Henderson with Lapointe Psychology is an attachment psychologist.  She practices within a context of attachment promoted by Dr. Gordon Neufeld through the Neufeld Institute.  He and Dr. Gabor Mate wrote an acclaimed parenting book a few years back now called “Hold On to Your Kids”.  The assertion of this work is that as parents we are our children’s security.  Therefore our aim is not to separate them from ourselves with anger and punitive measures, but to guide the way through big emotions and “bad” behaviour.  For some this whole notion may push a whole bunch of buttons, I know it has for me along the way.  And there are a lot of misconceptions out there around what this actually means.  Despite what popular culture has to say, this does not mean that we never say no or set boundaries.  It means that when we do set a boundary, and our children react, that we keep connected to them throughout their fall out.  This is in fact where it can get quite difficult. For me it is anyway.  This is where I have to remember my deep breathing to keep with them, and not get caught up in my knee jerk reaction to tell them to “Knock it off and get to your room”!  My challenge in those moments is to connect to what my child’s underlying motivation is, and what this is bringing up for me emotionally. I am usually caught by the same triggers over and over again; feelings of entitlement, (like I am entitled to respect and obedience damn it!), and usually embarrassment (like worrying what others must be thinking of me as a parent with my kid in full on tantrum in the middle of this waiting room).

Maybe you are thinking, “But Corina, you ARE entitled to respect and a measure of obedience”.  l think this too as I read that above sentence again.  But  I think the point, (and I am not an expert in this subject by any means), is that if we are available to model respect, by treating our children with respect,  this lesson goes much further than breaking attachment to put down or scold.   And then simultaneously we are instilling that they can come to us with anything, and we are there to support them.  That we the grown ups can handle it, and even when they act out, we are in control of ourselves, and therefore the situation.  We provide the container for them to let it out, and we are there to guide them back to emotional safety.  THEN we can come to the teaching.  They will trust, and we can impart the lesson.

So bringing this back to my little one’s tantrum in Dr. Henderson’s office.  As I sat with him, and affirmed his emotions, “Yes I can see you are very frustrated, come have a hug with mommy”, I didn’t feel the usual pressure to rush him to shut up.  Of course I wanted him to be quiet, as I am sure did everyone else.  However I felt an air of understanding and support for the process of letting this little boy work through his frustration, with me by his side.  Most other situations I feel the opposite.  Like the central goal is to quiet the chaos, and  to demonstrate to on lookers that I have the power to dominate the emotional reactions of my offspring into emotions that are comfortable and pleasing for all.   On the contrary, this supportive environment allowed me to be fully present to my own experience, to be more able to manage my emotional state, which in turn allowed me to be sensitive to my son.   Later that evening, after many hours had transpired from the event, my son and I were reading together.  He looked over at me in a pause and said “I love you Mommy, I am sorry I closed the box at Cool Lady’s (that is what he has always called Dr. Henderson)”.  I was surprised, as this was a totally internally motivated response to part of his actions while in tantrum at the office.  I hadn’t even realized that he was capable of such self reflection.  But maybe this is what Dr. Neufeld, and Dr. Henderson are getting at.   We’ll see.

This popped up on Facebook while I was thinking of this entry.  Seemed to fit.

Tantruming Toddler blog post.


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