THE BLOG
05/22/2013 03:52 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2013

Life Lessons From Tears and Tantrums

Toni Nagy

My toddler's repertoire of emotional mood swings is one of the hardest parts of parenthood thus far. Managing her feelings requires more effort than giving myself an enema. She and I will be having a great time in the bath when suddenly, she turns into an emotional terrorist because I turned off the water. I turn the water back on to restore the peace, but then she's infuriated that the water is too deep. All I want to say is, "Hey kid, stop being a jerk and think about all the people in the world who die because they don't have clean water. Relax and enjoy your stupid bath." Strangely enough, however, pointing out that the world is full of suffering to a 2-year-old doesn't always help transition her into a better mood.

I may not be able to see or touch another person's emotions, but I still experience them by instinct, viscerally. As adults, we become aware of how our emotional fluctuations impact others, but my toddler doesn't give a care that her moods might stress me out. Her main concern is making it known that she wants her sparkly shoes and not her red ones. And sometimes, that means screaming while lying on the floor and slamming her head against it.

It's shocking how quickly a lovely moment can turn into a catastrophe, and yet I do admire how freely my child expresses herself. Each sentiment is communicated with abandon, without self-censorship. She easily cries up to five times a day, often about something as simple as wanting her mango cut in square pieces, not rectangles. Yet, none of the drama seems to contaminate her outlook for more than a few minutes. This has caused me to reflect on how children let their feelings pass through them, whereas grownups tend to hold on to emotions, especially the negative ones.

When I feel sad, depressed or angry, it's hard to remember the feelings are temporary. How moods are like the wind, or a river, or wind blowing through a river -- you know, some poetic flowery reference you would read on your Facebook feed. Emotions are always moving and changing. When my daughter gets upset because I say "no," minutes later, she is laughing in my arms again, always quick to forgive and move forward.

Holding on to negative feelings can both age us and cause sickness. The mind-body connection cannot be denied, and science has confirmed the correlation between our emotional disposition and our physical health. Experiencing feelings is a healthy part of being human -- how we handle our emotions is where the real work lies ahead. Anger, fear and sadness are all tools to learn from and should be honored as such. But letting negativity and stress eat us alive will vastly deteriorate mental and physical health. Learning to practice non-attachment during these moments has contributed to my overall wellbeing. The idea is to be able to acknowledge my feelings as the lessons they are, but not to let them control me.

My daughter is a great teacher when it comes to the importance of fluidity in my psychic state. Yet I cannot exactly go around and emulate her. Despite finding inspiration in the spirit behind her actions, she is a toddler. I think it will be frowned upon if I threw my wallet across the grocery store and had a tantrum because I think $5 is too much for an organic chocolate bar. Learning to process feelings on your own will help differentiate the petty grievances from the real issues that need to be discussed. I look forward to my child's learning the benefits of waiting to talk to someone when she isn't in a state of fury. How feelings of anger can advise her, but having a calm and open heart, helps promote productive communication.

Children are fascinating creatures because they operate so fully in their emotional spectrum. So much of their development is about feelings, and experiencing their wide range and color. It is a necessary stage even though having diarrhea of the consciousness and telling everyone how you feel about everything, all the time, is exhausting for the people around you. Yet I am grateful to be a witness of my child learning how to negotiate her feelings because it has inspired deep self-reflection on how I deal with my own. If she can go from crying to laughing all within 30 seconds because of someone blowing zerberts on her tummy, so can I.