Human Stories

The beauty behind a child’s Tantrum

Marshall Rosenberg doesn’t like to say ‘children’, he prefers saying ‘small people’ to remind himself that, in essence, children are no different than adults (big people)- they have the same needs. Every action a child takes, is an attempt to meet a beautiful need (even if I do not yet understand the need he/she tries to meet).

A classical challenge for ‘big people’ is ‘a child’s Tantrum’- when he/she get’s ‘Crazy’ about something that doesn’t seem so important or logical in our eyes. I often hear people interpret a ‘tantrum’ as: “he does it to get attention”, “he is doing it as a power game” and others.

In my understanding, any action taken by a child, has a very beautiful, healthy intention behind it. Managing to hear the beautiful intention (message) behind a tantrum is a key to cooperation and love.

In a ‘connecting with children’ course I am currently leading, we had an example last week that particularly touched me: It happened during a Role Play I was doing with one parent. I was playing ‘The Parent’ and the parent was playing ‘The child’. The context was ‘shopping in the supermarket’:

Child: “Can you buy me these crisps (chips)?”

I was breathing for a moment, checking inside me as I was imagining being the parent: mmm… I am concerned about such crisps, as I heard these crisps have a high amount of vegetable oil, and I really want my child to be healthy. So I said (based on ‘how to say NO in Giraffe’):

Me:  “I am concerned, I really want to buy things that are healthy, how about we buy a banana for you?”.

I was not surprised that the child’s response was:

Child: “NO, I want these crisps !!”. 

When I suggest something to a child, I do not expect a ‘YES’ from him/her. My suggestion is a beginning of a dialogue toward meeting everyone’s needs. The Child’s “NO” is a “YES” to a beautiful need she is trying to express. So instead of going the old way: “I already told you 100 times- we don’t buy crisps!!”, I became curious to understand my child by starting to guess what is it that is important to her:

Me: “so you really want these crisps?”

Child: “YES, I want these crisps”

Me: “You really want these crisps…”

Child: “yes, I want it to be mine!”

Me: “ Ah, you want it to be yours?”

Child: “Yes, it is a nice big package !”

Oh, that was giving me new information, and now I had a new guess:

Me: “is it that you see that I buy so many big things that are mine in my trolley, and you want that you too have big things that we buy that are yours?”

Child: “ YES!!!!”

 I was touched. It’s true, why is it that I can choose and buy so many things and she cannot choose one? So I said:

Me: “ok, so shall we go and search something big that is yours and that is also healthy?”

Child: “YES”.

When we get the actual thing that is important to a human being, immediately there is a new flexibility as to how to meet everyone’s needs.

I was actually very touched, as I remember when I was 13 years old, I walked with my mother and my father into a supermarket. That was special, as my father never came with us- it was the only time this happened. We did all the shopping, and when we came out from the supermarket- I started to cry… a soft special cry with my breathe hiccuping in an uncontrolled way. They asked why I was crying, and I just tried to hide it, as I was ashamed. It’s only now that I got why I cried then- In the supermarket, I was secretly waiting for and hoping that my father would ask me: “Yoram, is there something you want?”

And now while writing it, again there are tears in my eyes.