Interact Journal Integrative Ideas for the Process-Oriented Psychotherapist

Categories Supervision Dialogs

On a temper tantrums

A four-year-old has been kicked out of three preschools because of his angry tantrums. Basically, his mother neglects him. She spends maybe ten minutes per day with him. She complains she has trouble getting him to do what she wants.

It sounds as if the boy needs a safe place to rage. And if mother and son will come in to session together, there will be an additional fifty minutes per week that this boy will have his mother’s attention. Call their process to their attention and devise interventions to work with it as it changes

  • Invite the mother to learn how to handle her son’s anger in a nonabusive way. Tell the boy he is here to help his mother learn how to be a better parent. Create a safe container for anger in your office, perhaps a specific corner or chair. Show her different ways to teach him to express his anger safely.
  • Direct the boy to pretend he is having a tantrum. Reinforce any safe behavior that is nonabusive. Encourage him to do more of everything while he pretend-tantrums, then hugs and no judgment afterwards.
  • While all this is going on, show the mother how to set limits to protect both herself and her son. Direct the mother and son to experiment together. The son will have fun teaching his mother what to do. 
  • When they develop a supportive response that the mother is capable of making and which also meets the needs of the boy, they can spend time practicing. Assign them to take a few minutes everyday where the boy pretends to have a tantrum and the mother practices nurturing, supportive responses.
  • Another excellent technique is called a holding. In a holding the parent restrains the child’s body while protecting both herself and the child. The child has a safe and loving container within which to rage and release. The parent is supported as they learn to stay in neutrality and not to personalize. Bonding occurs, a clear hierarchy is established and both parent and child perceive that Someone is in control.

Temper tantrums seem to be natural phenomena common to immature humans confronting the existential fact that they are not the center of the universe and that they cannot always have what they want. 

Support this boy in an environment of clear, but loving limits as he works through the grieving process. It speaks well for his self esteem that he bothers to rage. The fact that he has very little control over anything but himself is probably as hard for him to accept as it is for his mother.

  • Invite this mother to be seen individually. Once she gets some of her own needs met by spending intimate time with and attending to her own Inner Child, she may feel less neglected herself and be more inclined to be intimate with and attend to her external child.
  • If the mother will not come in with her child, teach the child to have a safe temper tantrum anyway. Use the pretend-tantrum method. Take over the parent role and set limits for safety. The child can tell you what supportive words to say. Eventually, he will introject both the safety and the support.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.