Handling your child’s tantrums in a spiritual way

Question

My daughter, who is almost 4, has a lot of tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. Still breastfeeding. Feel like I need help with my practice so that I can stay connected and see God in her and bring out/reinforce the healthy part of her. Any thoughts come to mind for fertilizer for healthy relationship/spiritual parenting? (I do realize that a lot of this is a call to deepen my own practice — a big challenge while also facing the other demands on my time and energy)

—Ben Borkovitz, USA

Answer

Dear Ben,

Thank you for your question. I started meditating in my early 20’s, married at age 23 and had my first child at age 24. My three children are all grown now, and they are well-adjusted and spiritually inclined individuals. Also, as young woman I was a preschool teacher for a few years. So what I share with you is based on my personal experience, and the inspiration from the teachings of my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.

Temper tantrums are an unfortunate aspect of childhood, but if they are too frequent it shows that something may be out of balance in the child’s life. Since you say that your daughter throws a tantrum whenever she doesn’t get her way, there are a few things that you can do:

  1. Get her to calm down, saying something like “Take a deep breath,” and ”Use your words…”
  2. If she insists on throwing a fit, a “timeout” may well be in order. I used timeouts for my kids on occasion, but I never exceeded one minute per year of age. So, a four year old would get a four-minute timeout. This is not harsh, especially if you tell the child we are trying to create a peaceful home here.
  3. I sometimes had to resort to locking the door of the bedroom (with a simple hook and eye) if the child would not cooperate with the timeout. I only had to resort to this a few times, but it does get the point across that you mean business. I still kept to the one minute per year of age.

I used timeouts as a last resort. Normally I would find ways to reward positive and cooperative behavior.

One day I made a “star chart” that was simply a big field of blue, and the kids could place their star anywhere on the chart after they did something helpful, or without raising a big fuss. They asked me what the reward would be, and I said, “You will notice that when this sky of deep blue is filled up with gold stars, you will have had a happy mama and a peaceful home for quite a while…” That actually made sense to them, and they were only a little older than your daughter at the time.

Children need to learn to behave, not only so they can do well later in life, but also so they don’t make their friends and family miserable in the process. Tell your daughter you want to start working on this so you can all have a happy family and a peaceful household.

An only child needs to be told that it is time to grow up, at least a little. In a larger family, such as was common in past generations, a four-year old could not have the entire world revolve around her every little desire. By then she could have easily had two younger siblings, and the child would have to think of the needs of others, even if just a little.

For this reason, it is also helpful for a child to go to preschool or kindergarten for part of the day. I don’t believe in all-day childcare, if it can be avoided (though I know some circumstances require it). But your daughter might really benefit from a part-time preschool program to help expand her reality, and learn healthier ways of relating.

Here are a few free online resources that may be a big help to you now:

  1. Do’s and Don’ts of Good Parenting, by Paramhansa Yogananda
  2. Education for Life, by Swami Kriyananda
  3. Finding God in Your Family, by Mary Kretzmann

Finally, take a moment to look over Family Life Resources, online books and more. Here you will find many resources to help you at every stage of parenting. Read a little bit each day and apply the things the make sense to you.

You also ask for help on how to “see God in her.” I think one of the best approaches to that would be to start the journey of helping her to see God in herself. Paramhansa Yogananda taught that the first gentle steps of spiritual training can begin at age two. With that in mind, consider using these resources for prayers at bedtime, etc. Some of these ideas are for slightly older children, so adapt accordingly:

I hope these resources are a help to you. Please don’t be overwhelmed by it — just read a little bit every day, and your own journey with your daughter will become clear.

God bless you,

Mary Kretzmann
Director, Ananda Healing Prayer Ministry

P.S. And last but not least, you may find this affirmation below very helpful, because when a marriage is happy and strong it is easier to carry out these noble ideals in family life.

Yogananda’s Affirmation for Increasing Marital Happiness

Father, please keep my husband (wife) and I perfectly united in body, mind and soul, and in ever-increasing happiness by Thy perfect law.