You might say it’s a child having…
A melt down
Getting to the end of their rope
Flipping their lid.
Whatever you call it, we’ve all experienced it. Every parent struggles, at one point or another, with helping their child through an upset.
For little people, life can be full of upsets. It’s time for bed and he’s not done playing. You’re all out of her favorite food. Her favorite outfit is in the wash. His friends don’t want him on their team.
What does a compassionate parent do when a child has gotten to the end of his rope?
In the blog this week, we’ll reveal 4 gentle steps to tame tantrums quickly, teach calming skills, and decrease the likelihood of it happening again.
These steps work for kids of any age who are overwhelmed with their emotions.
This is Part 2 of Secrets to Taming Tantrums. If you haven’t already, click here to read Part 1 about the “inner work” a parent must do to stay calm during a child’s upset.
Speak his language–the language of the emotional brain
When kids are triggered the emotional parts of their brain are activated; not the parts responsible for understanding verbal language. So, it’s hard for an upset kid to process what someone else is saying. Kids’ brains are better at processing non-verbal messages during an upset–like a supportive tone of voice, your quiet reassuring presence, a concerned facial expression, a back rub, offering a hug, etc.–because that is language of the emotional brain.
Offering a child a physical way to express himself can be helpful. “Show me how upset you are with these.” (Hand him paper and crayons.) “Push your hands against mine.” (Put your hands up in front of your chest for her to push against.) “You can stomp your feet or push against the wall to show me how sad you are.”
When you speak, say simple things like “Oh”, “Hmmm”, “I see” and “Tell me more” to create a safe space for your child to express himself fully, be seen, and be understood without judgement. You don’t have to even get the problem solved for a child to feel understood. The most important thing is that you listen.
Talk to him about his feelings
Drs. Siegel and Bryson talk about “Name it to tame it” in the Whole Brain Child. Helping a child tell the story of what is upsetting her helps her feel more in control of her feelings and connect both sides of her brain.
With a young child you can narrate the story for him. “You were trying pour the milk, but it spilled on the ground.” “You want to play more at the park, and you don’t want me to say it’s time to leave.” You (or your child) can even draw a picture telling the story or make a short simple book of what happened and how she felt.
You can even act out what happened… with your whole body, or with puppets, dolls, or just your hands. You might even be able to use humor.
Protect and Redirect
If you are concerned that your child might hurt himself, another person, or damage something, you may need to act protectively, while also helping a child express her feelings. When you act protectively, use non-judgemental language. We want kids to know that all of their feelings are ok; we are helping kids learn to express their feelings in appropriate ways.
Here are some examples: “I know you are mad, I’m not willing for you to hit me. You can push against my hands.” “Biting hurts, let’s jump up and down together instead, see if we can crack the cement.” “I’m going to move this chair so your arms won’t hit it. Want to give your bear a big squeeze?”
Be Proactive, rather than Reactive
After a child has calmed down–hours or even days later–don’t be afraid to talk to them about what happened and come up with a plan for next time. We call these “proactive conversations”.
Choose a time when you are not rushed; you and your child are relaxed and connected. Tell the story about what happened, without shame or judgement, and then talk about what you could both do to make it easier next time.
Here are some examples: “This morning you had so much fun at the park. You played on the swings, the slide, dug in the sand. You were sad when I said it was time to go. What can we do so it’s easier to leave the park?”
“When we were all together in the car there was a disagreement about who got to sit in the front. What can we do so that there isn’t an argument about that next time?”
Ask the kids about what solutions they have first. Then–if they can’t think of anything–offer some of your own. Find a win-win solution that works for everyone.
The solution can be silly or serious, creative or common sense. Your solution might work immediately. Or it might need more tweaking and adjustment as your kids change, you change, and your family’s needs change. The point of this process is to find a solution AND to signal to the child that we are both on the same team, and she can play a powerful role in shaping her world!
Now we are curious about you! What one new thing are you going to do next time your child has a upset? Share it below, it will help you remember it, and will inspire others. We read every comment!