My toddler loves to pretend everything is a choo-choo train, play with firetruck toys, and wave at the garbage collector. However, sometimes, it seems like his favorite activity of all is to throw tantrums! Especially during transitions, he will kick, scream, and cry.
My wife and I have tried so many different strategies to help him. The other day, I tried to cut off his tantrums. When he began to cry, I firmly redirected him and made clear his tantrum was unacceptable. I watched as he held back tears. I thought I was a Super-Dad! I even went to my wife and said that I found something that really worked to help our child not have tantrums.
I rode that high until about an hour later when my toddler told my wife that “Dadda says I can’t be sad.” That moment felt so humbling. I realized I was teaching my son that negative emotions are not acceptable. I began transmitting my discomfort with negative emotions to my son.
Of course, I am still trying to raise an overall happy child. No matter how many times I help clients sit in the negative emotions, I want to find positive emotions and connections on the other end of those negative emotions. I was teaching my son to run away from or suppress his negative emotions. I was passing down my unhelpful strategies for dealing with emotions.
I have to examine my own discomfort with my son feeling angry or sad. I often take his tantrums personally. The harmful narrative I tell myself is that he is not grateful for whatever gift of my time or resources we are spending on him. Or I tell myself that I am raising an obstinate and rude child. Other times, I think that other parents must be judging me for his unacceptable behavior. Underneath all this discomfort is some sort of fear that I am a bad dad.
When I act from this place of fear, I ruin these vital teaching moments about how to handle emotions. My toddler has no clue on how to handle his emotions and I need to be able to put my fears aside to walk him through his emotions. I know enough to know that his emotions are big, whether he feels safe to express them to me or not.
I’m not perfect, but I am trying. When my son throws his tantrums, I try my best to courageously accept his emotions, despite my fear. Don’t get me wrong, part of this is creating clear boundaries around unacceptable behaviors. And I fall short daily. No hourly. Probably more. But, the other day, my toddler said the most rewarding phrase, “Dadda loves me even when I am sad.”
I hope he remembers that. I hope that he knows that to his core. If so, then maybe he will be brave enough to be a man that can feel his feelings and know that his dadda will always love and accept him. There will not be a need for emotion suppression. He may learn on a deep level that working through your negative emotions brings rich rewards and connection. This is of course my hope, that he will be better than me.