Tantrums… the bane of every parent. They drive us NUTS! The “terrible twos”, “threenagers” “frustrating fours”, all of it characterised by tantrums.
The toddler yells and screams, throws himself on the floor.
The three-year-old resists everything, wants control over everything and screams when she can’t.
The teenager yells “I hate you!”, stomps off and slams the door.
I know some adults have tantrums!! Isn’t the mum who gets so frustrated with their child and screams, ranting and raving just having a tantrum??
Every mum has a child who has to manage tantrums. They are a normal part of childhood development and the process of emotional maturity.
In a nutshell, a tantrum is an outpouring of emotion in a situation where an individual doesn’t know how to handle those emotions, feel overwhelmed, scared, threatened or powerless.
Our children by definition are immature. They don’t understand the world around them, their role in it. They don’t understand why they are asked to one thing, but can’t do another. Childhood is a stressful and confusing time. It is understandable that when things get too much for them they explode in a tantrum, a release of their internal pressure valve.
It’s frustrating when our child tantrums. They’re yelling at us, hitting us, not listening, not calming down. We feel embarrassed, cranky, stressed, angry, full of rage. Sometimes we understand, other times we have no idea what’s going on.
If tantrums are normal, and yes they do decrease in intensity with age, how can we cope with them?
Yelling, snapping, aggressively responding – smacking, throwing kids in time-out, just adds to the chaos. It doesn’t help diffuse the situation, which is ultimately what we want.
The most important thing is for us to remain calm, to manage our own emotional reaction. But how?!?
I would love to share with you my 4 tips on how you can handle yourself while your child has a tantrum, keep calm and diffuse the situation as quickly and easily as possible.
When your child is having a tantrum and you’re feeling angry, as if you’re about to yell, even though you know you shouldn’t be, we must BREATHE. At that moment, we’re in a state of stress and not just emotional stress, our physiological stress response is activated.
Adrenaline is pumping through our system, our heart-rate elevated, blood shunting to our muscles to prepare us to ‘fight or flight’. But we don’t want to fight our child, and even though we might want to run away from it all, we know that’s not suitable or going to help anything!
Simply taking deep breaths helps you keep calm in the moment by not only helping to switch off the ‘fight or flight’ response and activating the ‘relaxation response’ (aptly named!) but also keeps our mind focused on something outside of the stress we’re experiencing and we can think more clearly. We don’t want to be ignoring our child but if we’re sucked into our child’s emotional experience then we get caught up, join the chaos and everything goes pear-shaped from there.
When your child starts to enter into tantrum airspace and you start to think “here we go again”, take a breath, and then another, and then another. Keep going while you move onto the next three.
2. Stay Safe
Nothing is more stressful than having your physical safety threatened. If your child is hitting, kicking or physically threatening you then ensuring your physical safety, and the safety of anyone else around you including other children, is paramount.
My technique is simple. Don’t yell, calmly state between deep breaths “I will not let you hurt me.” Sit near your child, don’t stand – you want to be on their level. Put your hands up if necessary, palms open to protect yourself from any blows. Keep going until your child’s intensity decreases. This may take a while, depending upon your child’s age and temperament. Stay the course, it will happen. Then simply say “I’m here for you, how can I help?”
Why this way? Well, punishing your child and sending them to their world for being aggressive when they can’t handle their emotions isn’t going to stop the tantrum. Correcting their behaviour and asking them not to hit, kick or scream while they’re in a stressed state isn’t going to make them stop. We want to convey the love and acceptance we have for our child (yes, even when their behaviour is not perfect, when is it ever going to be anyway!) so that they trust us and come into our arms where we can begin to calm them.
3. Keep Perspective
In the midst of a tantrum, your child is trying, even if it doesn’t look like it, to process their emotions. This is the only outlet they have, particularly if they are a very young child. They do not have the abstract thinking capabilities to act in a rational way to manage some big emotions.
They are not acting this way to manipulate you.
They are not acting this way to purposely upset you.
They are not acting this way to embarrass you.
If you can remind yourself of this then it will help you not take the tantrum personally, help you to stay calm and in control. Repeat an affirmation “My child is not giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time.”
4. Be Welcoming
Tantrums don’t last forever and there will be a moment when your child will turn and need you. Make sure you are there! This is SO important!
Wait out the tantrum by sitting on the floor or in a chair, basically on their level. Don’t stand over them, don’t be waiting in the kitchen while they yell and scream in the lounge room. Be ready for them.
Simply be there and say “I’m here when you need me” or “Would you like a hug?” If your child answers no then accept their answer and still be there. Forcing a hug on your child not only goes against personal consent but may just pour fuel on the fire.
When they start to calm down naturally a big hug and some reassurance goes a long way. Now is the time for love, acceptance, and support – nothing else! Hold them or be there for them for as long as they need to.
If you have another child then and you’re sitting on the floor have them playing with something next to you while you give your child who is having the tantrum a hug. Including play into the calm down period of the tantrum will help diffuse it, distract your child and help the whole thing end.
Only once your child has calmed down should you even try to talk the tantrum out. Trying to do this at anytime before will just be an exercise in futility.
It may be possible, and frustrating, that your child doesn’t even know why they were upset, or perhaps they are too young to talk to you. Maybe if they can tell you, you’re thinking “Why would you get upset over that?”, the internal eye-roll we’ve all had at one stage or another.
Talk about what was going on. Listen openly and without judgment.
Your job as their parent is to help guide them through the process of working out what they were feeling and why. We are our child’s emotional coach. We need to help them learn about emotions, what they are, why we feel them and how to discuss what we’re feeling with those around us who love and care for us. This is emotional regulation!
They don’t learn this process just once, it takes repetition. Each tantrum, if handled in a way that is full of love and support to lift them up by a calm, cool and collected parent will go a long way to helping them become emotionally intelligent individuals.
Follow the four steps above. Reach out for help. If you want to dive deeper into how you can stop yelling at your kids, check out my free Calm Mum Training Program. You can chat with me personally through my Facebook Page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy calm tantrum parenting!