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Tantrums and Compassion from a 3-year-old

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My daughter had a tantrum last week. I can’t remember what it was about. I do know it was completely irrational, and on that particular day, I was D.O.N.E. Done. I wasn’t interested in one single more meltdown about one single more unreasonable thing. I was counting the minutes until Daddy was home.

So I went about my chores and ignored it. I knew in that moment I had nothing kind to say, and couldn’t quite muster a loving response, so I was just waiting until the volcano had calmed down. Raising these little humans—gosh, it’s a work of the heart. And sometimes, my fickle human heart feels like it is one gentle blow away from crumbling to pieces.

I fumbled around with my vacuum cleaner, getting more frustrated by the second. I just bought the thing, after reading rave reviews about it online. What these “ravers” didn’t say was how dang heavy the beast was. As I wrangled it, trying to empty the old dust out, the entire thing dropped on my foot. Oh my goodness, the pain that ensued. I’ve got this habit of when I get hurt, I just repeat “ow, ow, ow, ow” over and over again until I feel better. So I started doing that.

We must have been a sight for sore eyes. Me—a grown adult, crying and hobbling about, and a 3-year-old, having a tantrum on the ground next to me. I don’t even know what my youngest was doing, probably standing there watching us, wondering what the heck was going on.

But do you know what she did? That 3-year-old?

She saw me in my pain, IMMEDIATELY stopped her tantrum, and got up to help me. She had me sit down in a chair, ran and grabbed a tissue (a.k.a toilet paper), and gently wrapped my foot in it. She asked me where it was sore and proceeded to pray for me. She got a blanket and set up a seat for herself on the floor next to me, where she could keep an eye on my foot.


Three years old and displaying compassion far beyond her years. All the tension that had been building in my body suddenly eased, and I found myself fighting back tears. I’m supposed to be the one teaching and guiding her, yet sometimes I am astounded by the lessons I learn from her.

It suddenly didn’t matter that she had just had a huge meltdown. She is a 3-year-old and she is learning how to deal with the big emotions that overwhelm her tiny frame. It’s my job to help her navigate this journey, and for the time being, tantrums are a regular feature in our household.

But compassion? Teaching her to genuinely care for others? To see someone who needs help and go out of her way to be that person? To show initiative in a split second? To love and care on someone who was hurting?

That’s the kind of stuff that really is important.

This 3-year-old, she is gently showing me time and time again a truth we see in the Bible: God uses flawed individuals to display His flawless love.

The tantrums, the mistakes, the selfishness, the flaws and imperfections—we all have them. But they do not define us. My toddler can’t promise me that she’ll never have another tantrum, and I can’t tell her that I’ll never get frustrated at her again. Because she will. And I will. Again and again.

What I can tell her, though, is that compassion will always be a good choice. That choosing to rise again is always the way, whether you tripped and stumbled or threw yourself down there. I can tell her that caring about others in spite of her own imperfections says a lot about her character. I can tell her that small acts of service, motivated by a genuine love and compassion for others, is beautiful. I can tell her that her love for people, even at her young age, will shine the light of God into a dark and broken world.

“Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.” Mother Teresa

Written by Sina Steele, New Zealand

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