December 2011 Archives

The Tantrum Mantra: Do nothing!

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New research by Michael Potegal and James Green confirms what many of us childhood therapists have known for years: it is useless to try to reason with a child having a tantrum, and it is also in fact counterproductive. Sound familiar: trying to reason with your screaming three year-old, and finding the tantrum getting worse and you getting angry yoursel


The new studies show that every tantrum has an arc - from yelling and screaming to whining and crying - that seems universal. In addition, the emotions behind the tantrum are complex. Anger (easy to spot!) and sadness (usually masked at first) are there throughout, and the goal is to get past the anger and into the sadness. Once the child is sad - crying, whimpering, now looking for affection - the tantrum is reaching its end. Now we might find a chance to talk and reassure.


Why not reason with the child during the anger stage? Their brains are already "full" - they are in fact overwhelmed as well as being overwhelming - why add more information?

Tantrums are a typical part of a child's development. Don't fret: they end and we all move on!

So give this a whirl: here's the link for the NPR story about this research:


In peace and with humility,


Teacher John

Quakers have long believed that human nature contains the capacity for living with others in peace. Our evolution as a species, however, has been fraught with instances of war and violence. Are we doomed by our biology - survival of the fittest amidst "nature red in tooth and claw" - or is there hope for future harmony on a greater scale?

Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard, has long been a student of human development. I have read one of his books - How The Mind Works - and found it to be an exhaustive and informative study of human cognition and brain functioning (basically we process information really well....).  Now, Pinker has published a new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature (reviewed in the New York Times on 11/29/11), which provides concrete evidence that violence has declined significantly over thousands of years. A reasonable extrapolation then becomes this statement: if incidents of violence decrease, the possibilities for peaceful resolution of conflict increase. Hope springs eternal!

For me, this is a statistical affirmation of a basic Quaker tenet: that given the proper nurture and a reliance upon the Spirit of Truth for guidance, children "grow into goodness" and continue to develop into moral adults.

 The idea of an evolution of consciousness is not new: it was articulated by Teilhard de Chardin in his book The Phenomenon of Man  and elsewhere. And, indeed, as we all "grow into goodness," would violence necessarily fall away from our lives?

In this winter celebration of the Light amidst the Darkness may our faith and our science lead us to believe that the ongoing story of humankind - our own continuing revelation - is toward peace on earth and good will to all.

With blessings,

Teacher John

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