Dr Vanessa Lapointe unpacks the important benefits of toddler tantrums

Posted in Behaviour and Discipline.

Dr Vanessa Lapointe is a psychologist, mum and author of several books. Her latest is called Parenting Right from the Start. She’s a woman who understands what’s happening inside our children’s brains and is all about helping parents understand it, too.

Listen to Dr Vanessa Lapointe on Feed Play Love

Growing up together

Vanessa says that while many parents feel like they should have it all together, it’s actually totally normal to navigate growing up together.

“Those early years can be very challenging because they bring us to our knees in terms of forcing us to understand the parts of us that are as yet ungrown,” Vanessa explains.  “One of my big messages is that we must grow ourselves in order to grow our children.”

That’s reassuring to hear, but how do we accept our own limitations in a world where parenting has become so EXTRA? Vanessa says we need to listen carefully to … ourselves.

“One of the big challenges is that we have a lot of pressure on us socially,” Vanessa agrees. “There is a whole big parenting pop culture around child-raising that would have us walking down different paths with our children.”

“Oftentimes when I’m talking with parents, they’ll share with me that they’ll listen to what some expert had to say or they’ll do what it said to do in some book or something that they read online … Or maybe somebody in their family has encouraged them to parent in a certain way.”

“But they always have this sort of intuitive sense that it’s not really working. It doesn’t really feel right. It’s not resonant with them.”

Vanessa says it’s important to wind things back when it comes to this sort of advice-following, and trust your own instincts.

“There is nobody who’s an expert on your child like you are,” she stresses, urging parents to be brave.

“You have to go to your heart and you have to go to your gut. Sometimes that means that you’re going to stand up like the fierce mama or the fierce papa that you are in the face of that parenting pop culture and say ‘that doesn’t work for me and I’m choosing to do it this way instead’.”

Toddler playing with dad

Honour them as they are

There’s a huge push to have children independent and hitting milestones as quickly as possible, with parents often told that lots of hands-on parenting can be detrimental to kids and even spoil them.

Vanessa explains that our kids need all the love we can give them and that our love for them is doing really important work.

“We cannot be afraid of spoiling them.” Vanessa stresses. “When it comes to love, there is no such thing as too much. And to really show up and be emotionally present and available to your children is a big deal for them. It actually changes the way their brains get wired up.”

“We have to get over this misconception that we’re meant to have children who are independent and we must teach them this from the very beginning.”

Rather than trying to hurry along development, we should be honouring our kids for who and where they are right now.

“We want to be meeting them exactly where they’re at developmentally,” Vanessa explains.


Fire together and wire together

While many parents dread tantrums, they’re really due for a massive reframe, according to Vanessa.

She says that tantrums are a very important and very normal part of child’s development. That they’re learning new things every time they throw a wobbly. A parent’s role is to stand by their child, love them through their tricky time and know they are doing their best.

“When your little ones are tantruming or having any other kind of big behavioural challenge, our job is to show up and to invite them to lean in on us for our support, to find their way through that very difficult and challenging place,” Vanessa says. She says children ‘soak up’ their parents’ calm confidence at times like this and it helps them grow.

“Young children do not have the capacity to regulate from the inside. And so you must be that steady, stabilizing presence from the outside. For your child to really be able to practice this over and over and over again, it’s almost like they’re going to soak up from the outside your regulated presence. And in so doing, what happens is your child then becomes regulated.”

“We have this rule in the world of neuropsychology and the rule is ‘neurones that fire together, wire together’. The more the neurones get practice at firing up because of the tantrum and then being settled down because of the regulating presence of the big person who’s standing by compassionately and empathetically and firmly, but with big heart settling the child back down.”

“The more we practice that, the more likely those neurones are to wire together in the long term.”

Vanessa is in Australia during March to launch her new book.  She’s doing a series of seminars in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, supported by Maggie Dent. Book your tickets now.


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