Temper tantrums do not restrict themselves to the terrible two’s or even the preschool years. In fact, temper tantrums can extend all the way into adulthood. The amount and type of attention that is given to temper tantrums are part of the difference in how they are dealt with today versus how they were dealt with in the past.
Years ago, people were simply “labeled” by their temperament. Some were ill-tempered; some were not. There was no talk of “controlling your temper” or learning to deal with our “anger issues.” That is not to say that people got away with their temper tantrums. They lost their friends, their families, and sometimes landed themselves in legal trouble because they could not control their tempers. Thankfully, we, as a society, have come to realize that there is more to our tempers than simply living with them.
I had a wicked temper when I was growing up. I could feel the anger rising within me. My face would flush; my body temperature would rise; and the muscles along my spine near my neck would start to spasm. It was a terrible feeling. I would say things I didn’t mean, throw things I would regret breaking, and hit the wall, the dresser, whatever, until my hand hurt. When I was about twelve, I realized that I needed to learn a better way to control my temper before I hurt someone or myself. I never realized that what I selected was meditation because meditation was not “in” at the time. I would sit quietly on the floor at the end of my bed, focus on my breathing, and think positive thoughts until I felt the anger drain away from me. It took a couple of years to be able to master “dealing with my temper” to the point where I didn’t have to give myself a time out every time I felt my anger begin to rise. But I did eventually teach myself to deal. By the time I had children of my own, they would tell anyone, “My momma doesn’t get angry!” [When they became teenagers that changed to “My momma doesn’t get angry often and it takes a lot to make her lose her cool!”]
In a previous article, I wrote about my oldest daughter and the temper tantrums that she had, beginning around age two and extending to age fourteen. When she was very young, I would cradle her in my arms when she began a tantrum, gently holding her and rocking her back and forth in order to calm her. It never worked the way the books and therapists said it should and I had to give it up when she got big enough that it required force to hold her and I usually came out of the situation covered in bruises. I remember telling her to clean her room and, upon her consistent refusal after two or three hours, getting down on the floor and manipulating her hands so that she had to pick up every item in the room. Talk about a time-waster!
This morning, my youngest daughter drove us into work and got perturbed because instead of allowing her to change lanes with ease, the car beside her sped up about the time she put on her turn signal. Instead of waiting until he passed, she abruptly turned into the parking lot of the closest business and drug the bottom of my car in her attempt to get back out on the street. She verbally ranted as we headed for the interstate, while I sat in the passenger seat saying nothing. In fact, I continued to say nothing until we arrived safely at work, where I suggested that a tour of anger management classes might be in order. She asked, rather impatiently, “You want me to THINK before I act when I am angry?” Hmmmm. Novel idea, but, YES.
I knew that controlling my own temper made a huge improvement for me in how I felt emotionally and physically when I was young. I just never realized how much almost everyone needs to learn about controlling their anger impulses. Both of my daughters have been to anger management classes and the oldest continues in counseling to help her deal with the emotional perspective of her anger. The truth is that what we say and do when we are angry may feel good at the moment, but it makes us feel so much worse afterwards when we think upon our actions and their results. Is there a way that we can help our children avoid this type of pain? Read next week’s article, Dealing with Anger Issues, to find out.