Watching your child in full tantrum mode is painful, embarrassing, and difficult as a parent. But with some practice, you can handle these incidents with grace and understanding while remaining firm and clear.
Changing how you instinctively respond to a situation is challenging, and will require some planning and work.
What is one step you want to focus on this week?
Children have only used their physical bodies for communicating until learning to speak, so they instinctively respond with crying, violence, or movement when they get upset. Trying to calm them down,
explain, distract, or also getting angry in the moment makes it MUCH worse. Your child can not stop crying, pull themselves together, or get up; she is not in control at this moment.
Try to wait it out, and only step in for safety reasons or to meet others needs (for example, when you are in a public place you may need to leave the area).
After your child is calm, you can continue the conversation, command, or activity and help work through any emotions. Focus on connecting with your child and reaching an agreement that meets your expectations and limits, rather than a power struggle. Changing the limits and “giving in” may work in the moment, but will make things worse next time. Follow these six steps below to guide with love, respect, and clear limits:
After the storm, keep calm and…
1. Pause and look for unmet needs. What is really going on? What might your child be after? Is your child lonely, hungry, tired, angry, or in need of autonomy? Pausing before reacting also allows for a chance to set priorities and a clear assessment of your current feelings and needs.
2. Connect and empathize. Make sure your child knows that it is ok to have these emotions without risking your love and support. Help your child recognize and name their emotions: “Wow, you sounded very angry, is that how you feel?” Guessing your child’s feelings automatically changes your attitude towards the situation and allows you to empathize. Avoid telling your child how they feel, keep it a question or
suggestion. Children understand more than they can express back. They are searching for the words!
3. Ask questions to see if your understanding is correct. “Are you feeling excited about your friend visiting soon? Would you like something to eat? Do you want to choose?” Then listen.
4. Keep in mind your own needs and the needs of others in coming to any requests or directions. Do you have limited patience in this moment, or need to get out the door NOW? It’s perfectly okay to be honest and say in a calm voice “We need to leave. You can walk yourself or I can carry you.”
5. Reach an agreement for what to do next. You might offer two suggestions, or hear your child’s ideas for how to solve the problem. “So, you really want to run. We can run outside, or you can continue walking inside. What do you want to do?” Do not change your limits or expectations because your child threw a tantrum.
6. If necessary, demonstrate ways to “make it right” and help meet everyone’s needs. Never force an apology. As your child gets older, they can help come to creative solutions and problem solve.