So there you are, maybe in line at the store, at a birthday party, in a restaurant, or perhaps just trying to get out the door with your half dressed, barely washed child, realizing you are running late again, when your precious angel drops to the floor and begins kicking, screaming and turning red in the face. It can be hard to know what to do, especially when you haven’t slept through the night in over two years, haven’t had breakfast, can’t find your keys and aren’t entirely sure that you brushed your teeth. Understanding why this is happening can be the first step to combatting the dreaded tantrum, and rethinking what is commonly called “the terrible twos.”
I recently offered a Montessori Enrichment Seminar on this very topic, hoping to give parents some understanding and tools to help prevent such occurrences. We discussed ways to find the root cause of the tantrum; it could be broken trust, or issues with credibility. Maybe you have an overtired, overwhelmed or overstimulated child, or one suffering from boredom, hunger, frustration or confusion. Or perhaps, you are one of the lucky ones, whose child is simply expressing a developmental need to test boundaries. Finding the root cause, and addressing that, can not only be the most direct and efficient way of dealing with a tantrum, but ultimately the best way of preventing them in the first place.
Maria Montessori observed the young child’s need for order and consistency. We as adults often require variety in our patterns to stave off boredom. For the young child , however, who is busy building an understanding of the workings of the world, variety can be not only confusing but sometimes downright terrifying. In the seminar on “Taming Tantrums: Celebrating the Willful Child”, we reviewed ways to support your child’s developing trust and understanding of the world, and ways to bring your child back from the brink. Honesty, acknowledging feelings and using simple language are among my main tools in the classroom. My assistants sometimes laugh at me when they see that I’m sitting with a crying child, calmly explaining, “I see that you are mad. It’s not fair that I won’t let you climb on the shelf and I’m sorry for that. Anger is a valid emotion, my friend, and you should express it! But you still need to keep your feet on the floor.” The children quickly see that I do mean it, and do care, and as a result, the few tantrums we see in our classroom are typically short lived.
In their book Montessori from the Start, Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen refer not to “the terrible twos”, but to “the time of self affirmation” (the Lillard family is like Montessori royalty and I highly recommend any of their books.) During these first few, formative years, your child is struggling to organize their understanding of everything, from language and movement, to social interactions and food, from toileting and dressing, to emotions and trust. Add to all this that your child is also trying to establish an identity of their own, as separate from you, and maybe you can see that it is a great blessing that we do not often remember these years!