• One Minnesota Writer

EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Temper Tantrums

The Tuesday Night Dinner Project People less than three years old are inherently more honest than those of us who are adults. 

This is not always convenient. People less than three years old are also apt to miss other social cues that tell them it’s time to be quiet or it’s time to leave or it’s time to let someone else go first. Ownership is a fuzzy concept. What’s yours is mine is ours, right?

Anyway. After a pretty easy day yesterday during which I baked cookies and read many kids’ books with my granddaughter Camille, evening was something else. I know from experience that kids don’t always do well at the end of the day, when they are tired and hungry and everyone else seems to have other priorities. I’m seldom surprised if Camille has a temper tantrum. 

She’ll learn.

But watching her yesterday got me thinking about temper tantrums in general. About the way adults work with anger, take it into other forms, let it shape something unrelated to the anger itself. I just had my own temper tantrum a little while ago because one of my dogs snuck downstairs and peed on the floor. This particular dog has challenged us quite a lot over the years because she’s incredibly stubborn and doesn’t like to be told, “wait”, even if that only means a few minutes (which was the case today). So, maybe she started the temper tantrum chain today with her stinky little act of defiance. She is now in her crate, where I’m sure she’s already forgotten what put her there. She won’t be there long, because I’m not that mean, but she’ll be there long enough for me not to be quite so mad. 

My reaction to the dog’s misbehavior is obviously less optimistic that my reaction to my granddaughter’s behavior. And if I think about what ticks me off from other adults, I realize that is when I’m the least charitable of all, because adults should know better, right?

Only not. It’s so apparent with kids and animals when they don’t understand something and tempers flare because of an inability to see consequences or process reason. But adults are better at hiding their uncertainty until it pops out like a champagne cork under pressure. Embarrassment ensues. And then anger.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for anger – injustice, violence, selfishness. But misunderstanding must rank pretty high. I come from a family who was notorious for not talking about things and keeping secrets. There were a lot of arguments when I was growing up. A lot of anger. A lot of assumptions. If my parents were still here, they would be disappointed with me for saying this in public, so let me temper that with the fact that there was a lot of love, too. We were kind of emotional. But the misunderstanding of each other and readiness to leap to conclusions without all the evidence is something I will carry with me forever.

When I look at Camille, I hope that she learns to channel those temper tantrums into honest conversations with the people she loves. Soon, she’ll be too big to carry out of the room until she cools down. Her parents are fabulous, so she’s got a good shot at it.

And now I’d better go let the dog out.

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