“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it is our job to share our calm not join their chaos.”L. R. Knost
Tantrums are actually a very normal part of child development. They are the way in which children learn to express themselves about anything and everything. Whether it be discomfort, fear, or not receiving something they want.
Children who have a mental health diagnosis may have a more difficult time developing emotionally and we may see tantrum behaviors into later years.
Tantrums at any age are exhausting and frustrating, and depending on the chronological age of your child, has the potential to be dangerous. Attempts to diffuse tantrums often end up backfiring because as adults, we become overly frustrated with the expression of the emotions as they are not socially acceptable. However, we have to remember, that becoming upset ourselves, never helps. When we lose control of our emotions, we react impulsively just like our child. Two impulsive and emotional beings does not help de-escalate anyone.
More often than not, the hardest thing to offer is what a child needs the most. And that would be a calming, positive approach. These next few tips help not only children as young as toddlers and elementary aged, but are also great to use whenever a conflict arises with other adults.
5 Tips to Taming a Tantrum
- Check in with yourself and remain calm: Do you notice how when somebody yells at you or says something in a way that rubs you the wrong way, you tend to bristle right back? Children are picking up on our tones and body language all the time. When you go into a conflict, the first thing you want to do is check in how you yourself feel in this moment. Do what you need to do to calm yourself down whether that be taking a deep breath or counting to 10. Recognize how you feel, and remind yourself that this moment won’t last forever and you can do it. Your child is not trying to give you a hard time, they’re just having a hard time.
- Listen, validate, and use positive language: We have a tendency to want to fix the problem right away, but we don’t even know what the actual problem is. Listen to the words and the tone of your child, notice their behaviors and first try to validate that you understand how they’re feeling before correcting or trying to offer help. If you can avoid using the word no, try.
3. Give the situation time and space: This isn’t always possible to do if your child starts having a meltdown in public, but if you have some privacy at home or are able to, do not rush the child out of their emotions. It’s helpful to think about in your head, that you can have a 15 minute crying and yelling fit, or you can have a 45 minute verbal fight with those previously mentioned behaviors and more.
4. Try a calming distraction: If there is an item of comfort that is easily accessible, offering that can be extremely helpful as it invokes a different emotional response. If you can catch your child early enough, trying calming activities like blowing bubbles or balloons or even doing yoga, stretching, or using a weighted blanket can teach a more positive way to get feelings out before verbally explaining and interacting with others about the needs are. If the child is throwing things, hitting, or running, be sure to assess the situation for anything that could threaten the child’s or anyone else’s safety. If possible, remove your child from the situation in which the tantrum began. Hugging can also be very beneficial, but be sure to ask your child if they need a hug first.
5. Be prepared, consistent, and don’t cave! If you give into a situation, you are more likely to see the same behaviors repeatedly. We want to use tantrum behaviors as a way to teach children that their emotions are natural, but how we express them and have our needs met must be controlled. Be consistent and confident in your choices, even when it may be easier to just end the behaviors. When you know that your child has had a tantrum in a specific situation before, it’s also helpful to prepare your child and yourself for the situation to come. Use the same phrases and have your child practice what they will say and do before going into a triggering situation.
Above all, remember that you’re human. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes we get upset or give in. Do your best, and remember that a tantrum is typically not personal, but simply an expression and an opportunity to grow and learn.