I can’t believe how often I see adults throwing temper tantrums. Something gets them upset and they huff and they puff and they blow their cool right out the window. They throw things, punch holes in the wall, slam doors, slam people, scream, cry, spew hate-filled words…you get the picture. So often, way too often, they do this in front of their children. Or even because of them.
One day their kids start doing it too, and they wonder what the hell is wrong with them. “Act your age,” they say. “Stop acting like a baby.” Or, “Who do you think you are to yell/scream/swear at me?” Or something else equally, well, clueless.
Why are they clueless? I only know because I was clueless once upon a time…
When my daughter, my first born, was about two years old she had a major temper tantrum; kicking, screaming, pulling the cat’s tail in anger. You know, the works. When she didn’t respond to “stop” a couple times, my husband calmly picked her up and put her in a chair facing the wall. He told her she was having a “time-out” and she was to stay there until he told her otherwise. She kept climbing down; he kept putting her back.
I was having a hard time watching my baby get punished. Finally I yelled; “Why are you doing this to her, Ray? She’s only two years old!” He looked at me as if I were crazy. “Denise,” he said firmly. “We are not raising a child. We are raising an adult.”
“What do you mean we’re not raising a child?” I asked. “She is a child! She won’t be an adult for, like, sixteen years!”
“Now is when she learns to become an adult,” he explained, more frustrated with me than her. “It’s going to take us at least sixteen more years to teach her. She needs to know she can’t act out when she gets emotional. I refuse to let our child grow up to be incapable of handling herself.”
Do you see how clueless I was? I had no idea that caving into behavior like my daughter was displaying could be harmful to her, and not only her but everyone she encounters throughout her lifetime.
I didn’t realize that what your kids learn as kids becomes their behavioral patterns, and that can stay with them forever.
I should have known this because I was a whiner as a kid, all the way into adulthood. When things didn’t go my way I whined. I also yelled when I got mad, played victim when I was hurt, looked for someone to “fix me” when I was sad, and panicked and catastrophized when I was scared. I let my emotions dictate how I acted, and how I treated others.
I was an adult child, and this is what I could have taught my daughter!
But I listened to my husband that day, even though I didn’t quite “get it” yet. It took me many years, many teachers and much inner work to change the way I was patterned so that I wouldn’t model child-like behavior to my kids. Well, I’m still working on it to be honest, and probably always will be. But today, twenty-one years later, my kids are confident, capable, emotionally responsible adults.