No matter how old your kids are… 2, 12, or 22 years old, at some point they’ve been overcome with emotions.
Even us, mature adults have “grown up tantrums” occasionally.
We might call it road rage, over-eating, over-drinking, over-shopping, yelling, door slamming, or feet stomping, but it’s a tantrum all the same!
I talked to a mom on the phone recently about her son. He’s two years old and doesn’t have a lot of words yet, mostly “truck” and “ball”.
They were playing at the park together and having a wonderful time…. then it got dark and close to dinner, and it was time to go home.
When she talked to him about leaving he started flailing his arms and legs around, crying and screaming “No, no. no”. She continued talking to him as she put him, flailing, into the stroller and walked home.
After about 10 minutes of screaming (it felt like an eternity) he calmed down and recovered. For the rest of the day, her nerves were frazzled.
Worse yet, this 2 year old has tantrums often… Nearly. Every. Day.
The mom began to think…. “Is there a better way to handle this situation? I’m not yelling, shaming, punishing him. I’m being gentle, so why isn’t this working?
Is there something wrong with my son?
Is there something wrong with my parenting?”
Tantrums are tough on parents, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here's how to get through them.
Recognize that the tantrum doesn’t mean that you–the parent–have messed up.
The most important part of handling a tantrum is knowing that your child’s tantrum is NOT evidence that you’re a bad parent. A tantrum simply means that your child got to the end of rope. He’s at the limit of his coping abilities.
Most of the time, a tantrum is a normal, age-appropriate expression of disappointment, anger, or frustration. Imagine the child’s perspective… He’s having a blast at the park, it’s the coolest place ever. He lives in the moment so he doesn’t understand why he has to leave and come back tomorrow or the next day. He can’t tune into his body and realize, “Wow, I’m super hungry and tired”. Then mom comes and says, “Time to go”. He communicates the best way he can, he says, “No, no, no” (because he can’t yet say, “Mom, I never want to leave. I’m not tired or hungry.”) and–even though he used his words–his mom still says he has to go home!
A tantrum is merely a sign that your child has some growing up to do, some perspective to gain, coping skills to learn, verbal language to develop. A tantrum is a sign that your child’s brain is actually acting exactly how it’s supposed to, for this situation!
The best way for kids to learn how to handle their feelings is for them to practice handling their feelings.
We want our kids to learn to regulate their feelings, self-calm, self-soothe, etc.. We’ll talk about HOW to do this in a moment. Before we get into our tantrum tips, it’s essential that you understand something about the brain.
Brain science tell us that each time a child has a melt down he has a learning opportunity–to learn how to soothe.
Here’s how it works… Dr. Dan Siegel says, “Where attention goes, activation flows, and connection grows.” Said in another way “what we pay attention to, makes our brain fire (activate) and build a pathway”.
Each time your child has a melt down, you have an opportunity. During each tantrum you can help him build a pathway in his brain to calm down. This pathway gets stronger and stronger every time your child calms. This is why Dr. Siegel also says that experiences, emotions and relationships change the brain. Parents help shape kids brains! Isn’t that cool?
While you’re helping him cope, do self-talk that will help you cope.
Now that you know that tantrums are normal and they’re an opportunity to shape your child’s brain, there is one last part to know before we talk about WHAT to do.
During your child’s tantrum your feelings will probably be triggered too. Like the mom I talked on the phone to, you might feel sad, anxious, embarrassed or resigned. You are your child’s emotional coach, especially during a tantrum. It’s hard to be a good coach if you’ve got lots of your own feelings happening too.
It’s essential that you do self talk to calm your feelings.
Come up with a sentence or mantra that you can tell yourself during your child’s tantrum. Make it positive, personal to you, and believable.
“Our relationship gets stronger every time this happens.”
“He’s sharing all his feelings because he trusts me.”
“People are sending me love right now, because all parents have experienced this.”
Write down your mantra and post it strategically in your house, car, in your purse and pockets. That way, no matter what happens, your mantra is never far away from your mind.
But how do you teach kids to calm down? Saying to them, “Calm down!” doesn’t work. Punishing a child for a tantrum doesn’t work; it will only get him more upset.
In Part 2 we’ll reveal the 4 simple steps to tame tantrums quickly, teach calming skills, and prevent it from happening again.
Now we’re curious… What is going to be your mantra next time your child tantrums? Write it in the comments below. You might be an inspiration to someone else! Share the love.