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Temper Tantrums Versus Fits

“Throw a temper tantrum.” “Throw a fit.” To most people, these are the same thing. Yet, if we take the time to actually observe a temper tantrum versus a fit, there are distinct differences.

When children are very young they start throwing temper tantrums as a natural way of releasing energy in their bodies associated with feelings that are being triggered. This is similar to the way that animals need to release energy associated with their own trauma. Little kids in the midst of temper tantrums get their whole body involved in the process. They may lie on their backs while kicking, screaming, and thrashing their arms and body. They might do the same process standing up. What is interesting to observe is that when they are throwing true temper tantrums, they use no words. They just scream. Additionally, they don’t intentionally hurt anyone, including themselves, nor do they intentionally hurt anything of value. There is not malicious intent to hurt or destroy anything. They might accidentally bump something or someone and break an object or cause an injury, but any harm or destruction is unintentional.

Because the noise is loud and we as adults and parents have been taught to keep our children under control and looking good, we stifle the temper tantrums. Because children want to please their parents more than anything, they quickly learn to stifle their temper tantrums and their natural way of releasing this energy. What is sad is that when children stifle the energy associated with the temper tantrum, the energy still exists and needs to come out. When the energy gets too great to hold in, children who have been taught to hide their true process of the temper tantrum develop a sideways approach of releasing the energy. This creates the fit.

A fit may have screaming involved and also has words. The words are intended to be hurtful to others and the person throwing the fit. Not only are the words destructive, the actions are destructive as well. People may intentionally hurt others, themselves, and anything in their way. Many times people talk about saying or doing something “in a fit of rage,” and this is exactly what happens. During the fit of rage, they may say or do many things that they later regret. They may wonder, if they didn’t really intend to say or do those things, why did they do it in the first place? The reason we throw fits is because we have been taught by society to hide our true feelings associated with having a temper tantrum. We resort to venting the energy through a fit.

I have yet to see an adult throw a true temper tantrum other than when given permission in a therapeutic session. Yet every day I see adults throw fits. While many people may not want to throw a fit with the destruction it causes, they do it because it is familiar. We have not been taught or given permission to create healthy ways of releasing this energy that needs to be vented. While it would be seen as inappropriate or childish to throw a temper tantrum in public (and I am not suggesting we do so), we have grown accustomed to people throwing fits in public all the time. We see it when people yell, call names, fight, or vandalize property. These are all types of fits, or forms of anger coming out sideways. When people throw fits, there is a temporary release of energy. Yet part of the energy remains and can linger after the release as resentments, frustrations, hurt, and anger to be stirred the next time this unresolved feeling gets triggered.

Parents ask what they are to do when children start to throw temper tantrums. If possible, let them go ahead right where they are. If the behavior is going to be too disruptive, than move them to a location where they can safely release the energy. Typically, once the energy is released, they feel much better and are better able to interact with others immediately with no residual effect.

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