Do kids purposely tantrum to torture us? And when it happens, how do parents respond to the dreaded tantrum? Whether it happens in private or public, this definitely has to be one of the most unpleasant parts of parenting a toddler. Most recently, I’ve been paying close attention to kids and their tantrums. What I’ve noticed is that parents usually respond in either one of two ways: ignore the child or negotiate. According to the book The Whole-Brain Child, author Dr. Daniel Siegel writes there are two different types of tantrums. An upstairs tantrum is when the child decides to throw a fit. He suggests with this type of tantrum to use firm limits and appropriate consequences and eventually the child will find the tantrum is ineffective. The downstairs tantrum, however, is quite different. This tantrum is when the child is so completely upset that he is unable to use his upstairs brain to control his body or emotions. One strategy he recommends is to connect with the child in order to help him calm down by using empathy and a soothing tone and voice. Once the upstairs brain returns, the parent can respond to the issue by using logic and reason. This seems like a relatively easy approach, but is it as simple as it sounds? Maybe. As the start of the new school year quickly approaches, I can’t help but wonder that if Dr. Siegel is right and this technique is effective with a two year old, then could this also apply to my twelve year old middle school students?
Middle school teachers experience a fair amount of tantrums. I often joke with my colleagues that some days I feel like my students are just oversized toddlers. They whine when they don’t get their way, scream while running down hallways (is the school on fire?), and have recurrent mood swings where they are besties with a person one day and the next day are complete enemies. Are middle schoolers merely a super sized version of a toddler? Maybe a toddler and middle schooler have more in common than I actually think.
5 Signs That a Middle Schooler Is Actually an Oversized Toddler:
- Toddlers have unstoppable physical energy. They constantly run, kick, and jump. Walk down any middle school hallway and what do you observe? Twelve year olds who look like an awkward herd of octopuses with spindly limbs that sway erratically as they zip past you in rapid succession.
- Toddlers are picky eaters. Sometimes they may eat one or two preferred foods and nothing else. Middle schoolers binge eat one thing and one thing only: Takis.
- Toddlers can be happy and friendly one minute and the next moment cry for no apparent reason. Middle schoolers have frequent mood swings. One day they adore you and emphatically declare, “You are my favorite teacher!” Followed by the next day where you are treated like a complete stranger and they can barely manage to lip sync a civilized “Hello.”
- Toddlers love to dance and move to music as a way to socialize. As one student recently admitted to me, “I used to dance. Now I just twerk.”
- Toddlers have the idea that adults should do things for them on demand. Similar to toddlers, middle schoolers can also act like complete tyrants. They earnestly believe that using the bathroom pass, getting a drink of water, or going to their locker needs to be done at that immediate second and if not given permission, the world may come to a catastrophic end.
I am certain that these untimely and tiresome tantrums are often unavoidable. Undoubtedly, my son will repeatedly challenge me with his tantrums and eventually reveal my worst possible self. But maybe throughout this messy and complicated parenting process, I learn how to be a more loving, patient, and empathetic person. And if this is the case, then I likely have a great deal of learning (and tantrums) ahead of me.