Taking a Tantrum as a Compliment?

OK, I know it sounds strange, but when my daughter has a meltdown I really do take it as a compliment. Her tears and upset are so rare, partly because she’s just an easy-going person and partly because she trusts all her caretakers to listen to her and work to help her meet her needs. But there are times when she’s just too tired, or too hungry to stave off the tears and then she cries, throws herself down, throws whatever is within her reach, and pushes large objects around.

After we returned from a recent trip to visit my family, Julia was just a bit unglued and prone to crying and tantrums for a couple of days while she readjusted to being home. At first I was annoyed. I kept thinking, “Why is she acting like this? Why can’t she just listen? What can I do to get her to stop?” But every time I approached her with that attitude, the tantrums just increased in severity.

And then I remembered something I had learned years ago from Hand in Hand Parenting. When a child has a meltdown with me, it’s actually a compliment. It means that the child trusts me enough to be at her worst. It means that she doesn’t feel she has to act a certain way in order to be loved. She knows that she is unconditionally loved and so she can release her feelings safely!

After I remembered to take her tantrums as a compliment everything changed. I would breathe, relax and sit down on the floor near my daughter. Although I was prepared to listen to her feelings for as long as she needed, her crying and upset usually didn’t last very long. And it wasn’t as loud. She also stopped throwing and pushing things. Instead, she would often just come over to me for a hug or sit in my lap. “I hear you.” I would say. “You’re really upset about that and you’re wishing things were different, huh? Well, you can tell me all about it and I will sit here and listen to you.” Usually after a few words, some grunting or a few more minutes of crying, she was finished and ready to play happily again.

I am constantly surprised by how quickly children are able to switch gears from upset to joy (and back again). It’s really quite remarkable how completely they are able to let go into their current emotional state. I sometimes long for that freedom of emotional expression.

Now I’m not saying that your child will react in exactly the same way my daughter does. But I’m certain that my own ability to relax and enjoy her even as she is about to completely freak out helps her process her emotions more efficiently. She knows she has my attention and love, so she doesn’t need to escalate her efforts to be heard and understood.

Have you found this to be true at your house? Do tantrums decrease in frequency and severity when you’re able to calmly listen and reflect your child’s feelings back? Or is there something that keeps you from being able to do that? I would love to hear about your successes and challenges with handling tantrums. Please tell me all about it!

And have a fantastic week, Shelly


I wish I had've read this yesterday! My daughter had a complete meltdown today - I've never seen her like this before. I didn't know what to do, so I ignored her. I think that just made it worse. In the end I scooped her up and put her in her room. Within minutes she was asleep. After reading this I wish I had've connected with her in her frustrated/sad/angry moment and been able to calm her down. Before I left her bedroom, I did tell her that I love her very much...the only positive thing that I can take away from this situation. After reading this post I will know what to do next time and hopefully we'll have a more positive outcome. Thank you xx

AwakeShelly moderator

 @Mumoftwogirls You're so welcome! It sounds like you handled things just fine, and I'm glad you now have even more options and tools at your disposal. I hope you're having a lovely day. Warm hugs, Shelly