FTCB Tip of the Month: The Dos and Don’ts of Tantrums
Picture this. It is another cold day and you are tired of being cooped up with your child at home. So, you decide to venture out to the mall so that your child can stretch their legs and you can enjoy a little retail therapy. Things are going well. You enjoyed a nice lunch, browsed through a couple of your stores, and have decided to take a stroll through one of your kid’s favorite spots. As a little treat for your well behaved child, you tell them that they can pick one toy that is $10 or less. But, your child has other ideas and they have found a toy that they desperately want that is $40. At first it is a polite request, then it is a little begging, then a little whining, and you begin to dread what will inevitably come next. And, you were right. That whining turned in to full on tantrum when you stood firm with the $10 limit. Now, your heart is racing, you are flushed, and you suddenly feel as though there is a bright spot light on you and everyone is looking. What do you do?
Unfortunately this is an all too common experience for most parents. Whether you are out or at home, you will inevitably face the dreaded tantrum. While not pleasant, it can be helpful to remember that tantrums are developmentally appropriate and is your child’s solution, although not a good one, to their perceived problem, which is typically that they are not getting something that they want. How you handle the tantrum is really important and will impact the frequency and intensity of future tantrums.
So, lets think about tantrums for a minute. As I mentioned above, tantrums are your child’s attempt at solving a perceived problem. They often turn to this strategy because they have yet to develop the skills necessary to both communicate their feelings and manage their strong emotions. Tantrums often persist when a parent responds in a way that reinforces the behavior. Here are 10 tips to help manage tantrums and help teach kids healthier coping and communication skills.
- Label the feeling: Remember, kids do not have a large vocabulary yet and may not know how to identify or communicate how they are feeling. Take a moment to reflect the emotion you are seeing expressed so that they can begin to identify their own feelings. You can also reflect on their body language and how that is also communicating their anger Example: “You are feeling really mad right now that you can’t have the toy you want. I can see that you are mad because you are stomping and crossing your arms.”
- Share your expectation: Think about the last time your child had a tantrum. Could they reason or even hear you when they were mid-tantrum? I bet not. So, instead of trying to talk with them right then, let them know that you can see that they are angry and that you cannot have a conversation with them until they calm down. Example: “I can see that you are very angry. It is really hard for me to understand you when you are this angry and yelling. When you calm down, we can talk about what happened.”
- Redirect their energy: Sometimes it can be helpful to redirect a child to another activity. Sometimes a tantrum can be averted by simply having your child help you with something or play with something else. You can also redirect them to another outlet or way of communicating their feelings. For example, you can have them draw their feelings, or punch a pillow, or go outside an yell.
- Meet your child’s emotional needs: Tantrums are exhausting for children. Have you ever really paid attention to your child after a tantrum? They are usually pretty worn out both physically and emotionally. Children are also more likely to have a discussion about their behavior after their emotional needs are met. So, when your child has calmed down, give them a hug. Tell them that you love them. Reflect on how upset they are and how overwhelming that can feel.
- Process their