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Karyn Van Der Zwet, who you will see on my blog roll as Kloppenmum, came out with a new book recently, and she kindly sent me a copy to review.

All About Tantrums is probably the only book out there that really is ALL about Tantrums. If you Google books on tantrums you will come up with a lot of books about TODDLER tantrums.

But Karyn’s book isn’t age specific.

In fact, it gives multiple levels of advice based on the age of the tantrumming person, from 9 months old to teenagers to YOUR AGE. That’s right – her book has sections dedicated to ADULT tantrums as well, and what to do when you have one.

What Karyn does is break down the word “tantrum” into (I counted them) 15 tantrums with 35 sub-categorized tantrum types. And she not only describes what each one looks like and how to tell one from the other, but how to deal with each and every kind.

It sounds like a lot of information, but it’s actually insanely helpful, because I’m betting that every kid doesn’t throw every kind of tantrum. Chances your kid only throws tantrums over a couple of things on the list. And when you realize that you’ve been following generic advice which would work great for, say, an Intentional Tantrum (subtype Entitlement Tantrum), but that your kid is actually throwing a Brain Pain Tantrum (sub type Has To Be Done Tantrum), you realize you’ve been handling it all wrong.

Even if your kid doesn’t throw tantrums, it’s a great explanation of why kids do the things they do.

Owl doesn’t really throw what I would call tantrums. The closest he comes to a tantrum is when I hurry him through a task or make him do something he really doesn’t want to do. Then he pouts and hits, and gets put in a time out, and cries. And then we hug and make up and it’s done. Karyn calls these Boundary Setting Tantrums and lays out step by step instructions on what to do.

A lot of the advice hinges on NOT falling into “Karpman’s Drama Triangle’, which you may have seen in this post of hers which went viral recently.

I admit to tending to fall into the “rescuer” strategy where I try and explain and justify my decision. I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

But All About Tantrums also identifies some of my most common reasons for losing patience with Owl with eerie perspicacity.

My most common problem is called the Has To Be Done Tantrum:

Has To Be Done tantrums happen when things adults think are simple and easy to complete are perceived as difficult by children. (Or one adult assumes another can easily complete a task but the other doesn’t know where to begin).

Haven’t I talked about this before? My complete impatience with people who don’t seem to understand what I understand, or can’t do what I can do?

Now, when I get impatient with Owl over this kind of thing, it usually doesn’t lead to a tantrum on his part. But if often leads to a tantrum on mine. I get short and impatient and then jerkily do it for him, rougher than necessary. And he just sits there and LOOKS at me and I feel like a real jerk and end up apologizing.

Karyn vetoes the words “should”,”ought” and “won’t” and suggests that you step away and give them a minute to figure it out for themselves. If they insist on being helped with something you know they are perfectly capable of, she explains that this is due to a need to reconnect with you, and you should hear and respect that.

She recommends this vital phrase:

Do you need help, or can you manage?

and we respect their answer and respond appropriately, even if we disagree with their decision.

The best thing about this book is how absolutely excellent and balanced her advice is. She recommends true Attachment Parenting – not the don’t-make-your-kids-say-please kind of spoiling, but the real kind which focuses on connection with your children while expecting them to stand on their own two feet.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution fans will find themselves nodding their heads as they read about her encouragement of bed sharing and attending to babies as soon as they cry, but then wince when they realize that they’ve allowed their desire to remain connected with their children to turn them into overparenting smotherers.

Free Range Kids types will nod as she recommends letting your children play without your interference and letting them handle knives at young ages, but then realize that they also aren’t giving their child as much cuddling and connection time as the child needs.

No-nonsense Super Nanny types who believe in strict expectations will be pleased by her Complete No Experience recommendations, which explain why it is important and healthy to just say no and refuse to be drawn into debate. But they may also be surprised by her detailed reasoning as to why you should let your kid follow you into the bathroom and crawl in between you and your partner in the parental bed.

All About Tantrums recommends letting your kids play in the dirt and climb trees (and occasionally fall out of them). It recommends allowing your children to try things by themselves, and make mistakes, and cry. It also recommends soothing them when they are hurting, taking time to play with them and connect with them, and recognizing when they just need to be held.

Some of my favourite quotes:

Children who are mostly allowed to lead their own real life skill learning can do all sorts of things earlier than other children and feel better about themselves because they can manage life that little bit more.They know that failure is a normal part of becoming successful.

Small children who do not do things that are somewhat dangerous cannot manage danger when they are with their peers during their preteen and teenage years.

If someone can help us to hold our babies for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the first six months or so of their lives, this is a good starting point. People who have received large amounts of touch are, on the whole, calmer than those who haven’t.

Notice that she advocates independence in small children, but complete dependence in babies. This is TRUE attachment parenting – not the prolonged process of spoiling and coddling that so many parents associate with the term “attachment parenting.”

I did my own explanation of this process in my attachment parenting series. 

If babies are left in a cot or bassinet while they are experiencing fear or rage, they do not become content with being alone[…] The personalities which result from this approach are often those who are too kind, too-bubbly, too-obliging and/or too helpful.

These people are non-consciously disconnected from the sensations in their bodies and highly vulnerable to disease and illness, particularly auto-immune diseases and cancers.

Tell me you don’t know that person that she is describing. I can think of several.

But keep in mind, she isn’t advocating spoiling, simply finding a balance between connecting with our kids and completely taking over their childhoods.

There are parents who are non-consciously caught up in their own need for busyness and find it difficult to fully engage with their babies no matter how much they love them. [….]

Other parents are non-consciously caught up in their need to be ‘good’ at parenting. They tend to want their children to communicate on demand: using phrases like Show me the horse; or Where’s your nose; etc. This is intrusive […] It is another over-enthusiastic rescuing strategy which non-consciously keeps their sensations of inadequacy at bay. (Look how much I’m teaching my child, I must be a good person, etc)

The more we set and maintain reasonable boundaries by using the Complete No Experience, the happier our children become [….] They are more accepting of the imperfections in life and they have less of an entitlement mentality. They learn to behave within the rules or our families and societies.

Now, I know this sounds like a rave review, but I do have some things to warn you about:

First, All About Tantrums dispenses with routine child development/neurology terminology when describing emotional development and the actions of the brain. Instead, it invents its own terminology describing various “brain systems” – The Flesh Brain System, the Playful Brain System, the Apple-Peel Brain System etc.

I think the purpose of this is to frame things into chunks that will help parents divide up and categorize the cause of their children’s behaviours, and maybe it works great on the layman.

However, as a scientifically minded person with a B.Sc in Psychology, I find it difficult to completely reframe my knowledge of the workings of the brain under these new titles.

I find myself struggling to understand – is she referring to the action of the frontal lobes? Is she referring to the parasympathetic nervous system? THOSE words would make sense to me, but when she tells me;

It is important to restore complete calm to everyone’s Mega-Systems as quickly as we can before Flesh Brain Systems come on-line and aggressive behaviours (including subversiveness and bitchiness) begin

I have to struggle to make sense of it, and possibly flip back to the beginning of the book where she defines these systems (I think the Flesh Brain System is essentially the Sympathetic Nervous System).

That being said, it might work great for people who find talk of the pre-frontal cortex intimidating and confusing.

She also uses “non-consciously” a lot, which always jars me because I’m not used to that as a word. I’m used to “unconsciously”, and while I have found occasional uses of “nonconsciously” (sans hyphen) in neurology journals, I haven’t found the hyphenated use. Then again, Karyn is from New Zealand and “non-consciously” may be common usage over there.

The other thing is that All About Tantrums lacks some of the casual chattiness of Karyn’s Kloppenmum blog, which is full of real-life examples using her own children.

All About Tantrums is very to-the-point. She doesn’t ease you in with a story or some other kind of introductory chat. The very first paragraph is:

Our brains and bodies are made up of many systems: for digestion, for blood flow, for movement, for thinking, for growth and so on. Our mental, emotional and physical health are dependent on the state of these systems and their ability to work together as a cohesive whole. The whole is not the sum of the parts but the sum of the parts plus the degree they are synchronised. We could call this our Mega-System.

Don’t let that opening paragraph put you off.

The information in All About Tantrums is solid, and while sometimes uniquely expressed, science-based. Her advice is in line with the results of many research studies I have read about child development and emotional growth, and her explanations make good sense, even when I ignore the stuff I can’t follow about Apple Peel Brains.

Because it is missing the chatty casual voice of Karyn’s blog, I found it hard to read All About Tantrums in chapter order, the way I do with most non fiction books. But I really enjoy flipping through it as a resource, and it’s always surprising me with useful tidbits of information I didn’t think to look for, like:

  • How to introduce a new toy to a household of children
  • Who to greet first when you come home and are bombarded by multiple children
  • How to encourage language without making the child feel pressured
  • How to help a child move into a new house
  • How to handle living with a teenager (are there any other books out there on tantrums that include an entire chapter on the tantrums specific to teenagers and how to avoid them?)
  • How to deal with your own tantrums and the necessity of it if you want your children to stop throwing their own.
  • Specific physical exercises for Coordination Tantrums
  • What foods are naturally calming and how much water we need a day based on our body weight

And so on.

If you have children, I recommend you pick it up. Even if you just keep it in your bathroom to flip through. Every page will teach you something you hadn’t thought about before.

All About Tantrums is available on Amazon for paperback or Kindle.