Hearing that he cannot have a certain item that has caught his eye, a frustrated toddler starts screaming 'I want it now! Now, now, NOW!!!' as his voice echoes across the toy store. His emotions are big, strong, seemingly irrational - and are spinning out of control. The child is very unhappy and the parent’s coping skills and patience are quickly exhausted.
'I hate you!' - screams a teenager. 'Why can’t I go to the party? All my friends are going! You’re ruining my life!' She stomps into another room and slams the door. Again, emotions are high and tempers are flying. This child is very unhappy and her parents are at a loss.
What is happening here? Yes, both of these children are having a ‘tantrum’. But is that it? Or is there more to the story?
These behaviors are expressions of what Drs. Martha Heineman Pieper and William J. Pieper, creators of the Smart Love® model and approach to child development, define as the “all-power self.”*
As Dr. Pieper notes, “The all-powerful self is your child’s temporary source of secondary happiness based on the illusion that the child can do and have everything.”* Or, in other words, they “want what they want when they want it.”*
It can be the source of major upset, frustration, and disappointment, but it is a natural and normal reality in a child’s emotional and social development. Understanding the all-powerful self explains behavior we see throughout childhood, but most significantly during toddlerhood and adolescence.
Because of the sometimes overwhelming manifestations of the all-powerful self, it is all too common to label children’s developmental stages negatively. They are called the ’terrible twos‘, ‘threenagers‘, the ’fournado‘, ’testing teens’ and more. And having to handle these extreme outbursts can be quite challenging if you don’t understand the developmental changes that are happening behind the scenes and how to best respond.
When parents remain calm, positive, and supportive of their child through these formidable outbursts, it can not only make parenting far less daunting, but it actually supports the child’s maturing past the all-powerful self.
The key for understanding and successfully managing a child’s all-powerful self is remembering that the all-powerful self wants what it wants when it wants it. A child has “an unswerving determination and absolute conviction that they can do and have anything.”* It may be at times irrational. It may be rude. It may be jarring. However, expressions of the all-powerful self are fundamentally normal. We all go through it, every child, every toddler, every teenager, at one point or another. Despite its challenging aspects, it is a part of our natural development. And responding to it supportively instead of meeting it