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Tantrums Aren’t Teachable Moments And Other Dirty Lies From Parenting Books

flickr / Bethany Petrik

The following was syndicated from Medium for the Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at

Does your toddler have temper tantrums so extreme that you are left wondering who the heck they are?

Does your child act like an angel for other people and turn into the devil’s spawn for you?

Well, the good news is, if your child is misbehaving with you but not with anybody else, you are actually doing something right.

“How so?” you ask.

According to Dr. Dan Siegel, brain and mind expert, kids misbehave around you because they feel safe enough to do so. Cold comfort while you are in the midst of a full-blown tantrum…

Why is this?

According to Dr. Dan’s research:

“The brain plays a really important role in human behavior (depending on the environment) and takes years to reach optimal functioning.”

Oh, so there is more of this to come? Yes. Apparently, about 25 years before full development is reached… But I digress…

The pre-frontal cortex, which moderates social behavior, governs decision-making, focuses attention (to name a few functions), is kept in check when your kid is out and about.

In environments where they are not 100% comfortable, they are learning to manage their responses. When they are on guard and a little bit concerned about receiving approval, for instance, they are much more likely to moderate their behavior and emotional responses. Hence better behavior in school or with other adults.

After being ‘on guard’ with other people, your kid might come home, relax their responses and herein lies the tantrum express train…

So pat yourself on the back next time your child is screaming uncontrollably. You provide a safe environment for your child to express themselves fully. They feel safe around you and know they won’t lose your love. They are securely attached.

Now- what to do with these full expressions of human suffering? Well, I have the pile of books here and after reading much of the modern research I have come to one major conclusion.

The only person you can help during massive meltdowns, tantrums or mega-defiance- is yourself.

The only thing you can do is look at your own response and your own behavior. Hard to do but less stressful if you can manage it.

Tantrums are not the time for teachable moments.

Tantrums are not the time for acting the same age as your child. Believe me, I have tried and it doesn’t work.

And unfortunately, mid-tantrum is not the time to fix any major problems.

The best and gentlest thing you can do in these moments is accept what is happening and monitor your own behavior. Children really do make adults of us, don’t they?

In a nutshell, if your beloved angel/devil is having an explosive tantrum, think about trying any of the suggestions below:

  1. When you start feeling annoyed, edgy or downright infuriated with your child’s tantrum, try to put a bit of space between the incident at hand and your own response. Breathe deeply and slowly and try to pause. (Yes, I know that’s what everyone says- but try it- it’s free…)
  2. Take the opportunity to be present with your child’s feelings. Acknowledge their feelings. You might even use words such as “I understand” or “I can see why you are feeling angry about this”… Really try to empathize with their situation. Ask yourself why they might be acting a certain way.
  3. Realize that if they are in a full-blown tantrum rage, it isn’t a teachable moment. The emotional and reactive parts of the brain are raging. Just acknowledge that, wait for the storm to pass and have a peaceful discussion about the incident when they are calmer and more receptive.

All of those parenting books are a great foundation for the workings of child and parent psychology. They are really helpful during ‘normal’ times and make for fascinating reads. But in times of full-blown tantrums, I truly believe that there is no magic fix… Just a good reminder to look at our own response and try to consciously create space for ourselves and our child to fully feel the feelings.

Melissa is a person who is really interested in the practice of parenting and how to make it as enjoyable and as easy as possible. She likes to create solutions for her own family and share them with whoever might be interested … Even if it means writing adventure stories about cute little meatballs! Find out more on or find her on Instagram