• Catherine Silcock

Violence in Tantrums

This is one of those things no one talks about. Yes, we may acknowledge our child has tantrums, bad tantrums, but admitting there is sometimes a level of violence that is frightening is the sort of thing that’s only mentioned to other parents who have ‘tricky’ kids and then only if you know them well!


Over the years the violent meltdowns are branded on the memory in vivid technicolour and intricate detail.


The first one I recall was at 3. Walking back from nursery. It was drizzling and I wanted to get home. He was on his scooter and, in retrospect, probably hungry or at least he wanted sweets and I didn’t have any. Then he blew! On an epic scale! There was no reasoning with him, the escalation was instantaneous. He attacked me with the scooter and tried to attack his baby brother in the pram with his scooter! The plastic rain cover and I managed to protect the baby. I had to abandon his brother in the pram in the front garden and lay with my body wrapped around his in the hallway to restrain him while simultaneously phoning his father and begging/screaming for him to come home from work immediately to help.


3! He was 3!


The next two were three years later in the summer. I was pregnant with my third child and therefore less inclined to (literally) ‘take the hit’. The first incident began at church, he climbed under the pew but there was something in his demeanour that made me nervous, wary, this wasn’t the ‘average’ meltdown or 6-year-old tantrum. I managed to get him out and halfway home before he flipped, again scooter in hand flailing it around like a nun chuck. I sent his brother and Godmother home to safety asking them to send back up as I tried, in vain, to talk to him. His father came and wrestled the scooter from his grasp and managed to carry him home kicking, screaming and punching until his wrath was spent.


What stood out during this episode was that on more than one occasion while wracked by violent rage he pleaded with me to help him. “I can’t stop mummy please help me”. He was not in control. He wanted to stop but couldn’t. He was frightened by it as much as I was, and yes, I was frightened, for him, for myself and for my unborn child. The episode needed to run out of energy before my exhausted little boy could be wrapped in a blanket given nourishing food and put to bed with lots of cuddles.

Hindsight is 20:20? Certainly when I look back at these episodes, I can see them building but in the heat of the moment can I? Maybe? Maybe not. But either way I don’t seem to be able to dodge the bullet at the time!


Having said that the second episode that summer I was pregnant blindsided me. One minute we were talking, the next he was throwing the piles of laundry I’d just folded all over the room laughing and then boom, the red mist had him. I couldn’t be sure what he would do so I scooped up his brother and locked us outside in the garden until the moment had passed. This did rely on him being too little to get to the latch to get out of the house and so only had a limited lifespan. But at least in that moment we were all safe.


There were ‘minor’ episodes over the following years. I recall on more than one occasion having him pull my hair out, punch and scratch me (always me never any other adults) and then I would leave for work within minutes of it passing (because it is like a storm that passes) the juxtaposition stinging as much as the physical blows.


Then over Christmas a few years later the ante was upped, and the three episodes inflicted during the festive season involved projectiles. These were so frightening I have only snapshot memories......of running away, throwing my youngest into his room and trying to peel my middle son from around my legs because he was insisting he would protect me and I knew that was dangerous because there was glass flying everywhere as items were launched down the corridor at me; of sitting on the sofa my 3 year old beside me and ducking just in time as a pair of scissors were lobbed at my head; and yet having guests over in the evening and behaving like nothing had happened despite us all feeling raw, because ‘life goes on’.


Or maybe it’s just me that feels raw after these episodes? Assaulted physically but even more so emotionally. I know he is exhausted afterwards, sometimes he’s shocked or contrite, sometimes he tries to defend his actions. Yet his siblings seem to brush off these incidents lightly. If I am feeling positive, I think this is because they aren’t that effected, that these episodes are rare, if I feel negative (these eruptions can have that effect) I wonder if they aren’t conditioned to regard this as normal? And thus if they act out, if they show any inclination towards lashing out physically, I can’t help but wonder if this is not the legacy of what they’ve witnessed?


I know it’s not just my son, it’s not just our household where these things occur. I’ve seen children lash out. Most commonly at their mother. I’ve seen women knocked to the ground by children in a rage. I know of children brandishing household objects as weapons. It’s one of society’s secrets. We don’t talk about it. Only ever to those we know we can trust, those who are in similar situations. But that is not productive because in hiding it we add shame to the mix of emotions and that doesn’t help solve the situation.


Only in speaking about this, acknowledging it happens and its prevalence can we hope to find ways to support all involved.


There is no blame.


This is one of the reasons why the Red Hatch Program came into existence - to help with the rage and those caught in the tsunami of its impact.


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