Dealing with your child’s tantrums.
When you’re in the middle of a meltdown or tantrum it may feel as though your child is disrespecting you and your rules. Rightfully so, it can be incredibly difficult for you to keep your cool. However, the first step towards resolution is changing how we think about tantrums and meltdowns. It’s important to remind ourselves that meltdowns in young children are often a part of development and are not a poor reflection of your parenting skills. Rather than acts of defiance which must be punished, there is a greater lesson which can improve your relationship. As adults we have the ability to learn the unique needs of our children and respond accordingly. Ask yourself these 5 questions:
1. Do I need to intervene?
At times ignoring or giving space to your child is the best response. Ignoring your child comes in handy when you suspect the tantrum is attention based or you simply can’t reason with your child in that moment. Often parents report to me that no matter what they say their child escalates when they talk to them. That is a clue to ignore or give space. During a meltdown children are in a highly emotional state of mind where rational comments or directions from you cannot be heard. As long as your child is safe give them space to get it out. Remember to talk it over once calm.
2. What happened before the meltdown?
Understand the trigger and attempt to address your child’s need which is not being met. For instance, if your child attempted to tie their shoes on their own and got frustrated, then you may want to encourage small efforts and attempts to tie their shoes as well as set realistic expectations for learning a new skill. Keep the activity positive by incorporating a fun song and take breaks if needed to keep frustrations at bay.
3. Are their basic physical needs covered?
Is your child hungry or tired? The best option is to be proactive with your child’s physical needs. If possible, have snacks handy and plan the timing of errands or tasks with meals and naps in mind. Your child may not have the coping skills developed to deal with physical needs until a later age.
4. What do I want my child to learn?
If we simply give in or punish, we miss an opportunity to encourage how we would rather they respond in frustrating situations. Provide them with the language to express themselves. For instance, if your child does not get the toy they want at the store they may kick and scream. For your own sanity, you want to end the meltdown ASAP, so you may be tempted to buy the toy. However, consider this, if you buy the toy you are teaching your child that kicking and screaming gets the reward and the next time the same pattern will occur. Instead once your child is calm, validate their frustration and guide them to a more desirable response. You could say, ” I know you really wanted that toy, but kicking and screaming is not allowed. Next time if you’re upset at the store let’s say that we feel angry , take some slow deep breaths together, and take space or quiet time until we can talk calmly.” You could also add, “If you would like to earn the toy let’s talk about how.”
5. Am I setting realistic expectations?
Set your child up for success. Certain situations are more difficult for young children, such as sitting through a dinner at a restaurant or staying quiet in church. It’s important to recognize when you’re asking a lot of your child and offer an incentive upfront. For instance, on your way to the restaurant you can explain that you are asking your child to eat their meal nicely and practice patience. If they do well then they can watch a video when you get home. This type of reward is different from bribery because it happens prior to the situation and is not offered during a tantrum. If your child begins to have difficulty, gently remind them of the reward they can earn. Make sure to avoid threats you don’t want to follow through with, such as “We will leave this restaurant right now!” often parents end up not sticking to their word and then their words lose power over time.
Remember to share your calm with your child rather than share in their anger.
Dr. Angela Steranko 12.27.16