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Tantrums and Torments

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2a NIV)

I hate getting frustrated at my kids, but lately they’ve been throwing temper tantrums in response to the most basic requests. Even when I use all my tricks, when it finally comes time to turn off the video or wash their hands, they act like I’ve asked them to cut off their arm! Sometimes they protest things we do literally every day—like getting dressed. It makes me want to scream!

I was telling this to my counselor, who observed that my kids might be upset about something they can’t articulate—worrying about something or missing someone. They don’t know where the big emotions are coming from, but they feel them. Therefore, it’s important for parents to create and enforce boundaries: kids need limits to throw a tantrum against so that they can express the emotion, and parents should be their safe place to do it.

Now, that sounds backwards, not to mention kind-of hard on me, the parent. But I can certainly sympathize with the problem of having big emotions and not knowing what to do with them; I’m a person of big emotions, too. (For what it’s worth, the parenting solution is to take care of myself, even if that means maybe letting them cry for a minute.)

Like most strengths, my passion is also one of my biggest weaknesses, such as when it manifests as outrage (sometimes useful) or just plain rage (not so much). My college church taught a tool called the Rational Self-Analysis, or RSA, which helps you process negative emotional outbursts to find their underlying causes. (You can read explanations here and here; the first form makes more sense to me but doesn’t fit the alphabetical mnemonic, so take your pick.)

The difference between the psychology explanation and the church form is that the latter asks you to find Biblical truth to counter your wrong thinking. As Paul says in Romans 12:2, we must fill our minds with truth to counter destructive patterns. Having a right view of ourselves in relation to God is the key to contentment (Philippians 4:12-13). When we rest secure in knowing that God will meet all our needs, we are less likely to seek fulfillment in the world, which always disappoints.

Learning to manage one’s emotions is a slow process—for both kids and adults! I’ve finished dozens, if not hundreds, of RSAs, and I can happily report that I now go through the process almost automatically and rarely need to write it down. Though my husband claims not to believe me, I’m a much better master of myself now than I was in college. Because of that, when I began to rage and cry but couldn’t find any reasons for it, we knew something was wrong, so I was able to get help.

Kids grow out of temper tantrums, but in this life, we’ll never fully rid ourselves of strong negative emotions. We can, however, keep renewing our minds, which is a pretty good start.

Abigail can be reached by email here.

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