I’ve been thinking a lot lately about losing my temper. Maybe it’s because I’ve been feeling that it’s been just a little too close to the surface or maybe I’ve witnessed just a few of them at work recently (from kids, not the staff).

A temper tantrum in the hands of a child is a powerful tool. Simply letting go of your emotional control can bring the world around you to a crashing halt and, suddenly, you are getting your needs met. Like most attention seeking tools, there is the danger of your target audience becoming used to it and simply ignoring it.

In an interview with The Harvard Business Review, Stanford University professor Bob Sutton muses about the usefulness of a strategic temper tantrum for bosses. Sutton muses that for bosses who do not routinely use swearing or raise their voices may get a boost when having that temper tantrum. Because it is such a contrast from typical behavior, the toughness and authenticity displayed may boost the impact of the boss.

Is there a place for a strategic temper tantrum as a parent?

Yes and no.

As parents, we are human beings and we are going to lose it every once and awhile. As Sutton points out, the frequency of tantruming behaviors in supervisors decreases its effectiveness and the same will happen for parents. At the same time, we need to make sure that our tantrum doesn’t move into the world of emotional abuse. We can lose it, but, perhaps, not completely. There are boundaries that we cannot cross and moving into emotional abuse is one of them.

The key is that we need to make sure that our kids see our emotions. If we are complete stoics in front of them or only express positive emotions, then that’s the adult emotional model that they will emulate. On the other hand, if they see a fuller range of adult emotions, they will understand that having a negative emotion isn’t wrong, but what you do with it could be wrong.

So what should you do when you lose it front of your kids, either strategically or by accident?

  • Don’t ignore it. You can’t pretend that it didn’t happen. It’s not healthy for you or your child.
  • Have a conversation with your child about the tantrum when you are calm. If you aren’t calm, it’s time for an adult time out.
  • Use “I statements” to describe your feelings, e.g. I feel frustrated when I ask you a question and I don’t get an answer.
  • Compare your behavior to a time when your child had a tantrum. It’s helpful for them to see that the isn’t the most effective strategy for expressing emotions even if it has shock value.
  • Express your love for your child.

We’re going to have these moments where our self-control falters. The true strategy of the tantrum is in the recovery.