Parents everywhere can agree: it is so difficult to remain calm when our children are having a meltdown. When our kids are screaming, hitting, stomping, and kicking in full-blown tantrum mode, even the best of us can find it hard to keep our cool, even though we know we should! It’s even worse when we were not in the best of moods to begin with — when we’re already stressed, hungry, or tired (as we often are) and then have to handle a child acting out.
The most common mistake that we make when dealing with our children’s tantrums is the idea that we can stop it from happening. What’s important to remember about tantrums is that they are a completely normal part of childhood. Some kids may have tantrums less frequently than others but almost everyone goes through it.
What we have to keep in mind is this: tantrums are not intentionally naughty behavior but outbursts of emotion.
Our kids don’t have tantrums for the sake of challenging us. Rather, tantrums are often a result of emotional baggage that our little ones don’t know how to express. That’s why they are most frequent in the toddler years, when our children are still developing their language skills and can’t adequately express yet what they need or how they feel. They happen when our children are hungry, tired, frustrated or uncomfortable. Just as babies have no other way of communication but crying, young children teetering on the edge of a tantrum are exactly the same: in that moment, they really can’t help it!
Think about the last time you – as a grown adult – were in tears.
Now imagine if the person you thought you could lean on, the person you were counting on to help you get yourself back together, met your pain with judgement, shaming, or a lack of compassion.
Our children need to know that we are able to handle them at their worst, no matter what.
Yelling doesn’t help
Has yelling become the new spanking? This question really resonated with me because I used to yell a lot. And it doesn’t even work. Yelling only scares our kids and makes us feel terrible.
Nina Howe, a professor of early and elementary childhood education at Concordia University, says: “Parents yell because they’re getting pulled in a million different directions and something happens that makes them frustrated. They see their kids fighting or the child is doing something they don’t approve of, and so they just kind of let loose. It’s some kind of automatic response.”
And it’s an awful way to deal with children’s tantrums.
I have since learned about gentle parenting. I am not saying I never yell anymore but it has significantly lessened and done myself so much good in terms of stress.
So what can parents do instead?
Respond to tantrums with positive parenting
When dealing with a tantrum, it helps to try to figure out what caused it in the first place. Depending on the situation, you may need to dispense comfort, suggest an activity, propose a nap, or simply provide food. Generally, though, you can turn to these rules of thumb when your child starts kicking and crying.
Do This: Stay calm and respond with confidence.
Not This: Overreact/Yell.
Do This: Respond in the moment and move on afterwards.
Not This: Talk too much or dwell on it afterwards.
Do This: Stay close and be emotionally available.
Not This: Say nothing or ignore.
Do This: Encourage all feelings.
Not This: Shame your child (e.g., big boys don’t cry).
Do This: Remember that behavior is communication.
Not This: Guilt your child.
Remember that by giving in to your child for the sake of “peace” you may be accidentally rewarding their behavior and unintentionally encouraging them to resort to tantrums whenever they don’t get what they want.
But listening to your child and validating their feelings are not the same as giving in. Remember: tantrums are a form of communication, especially for younger children. When you make them feel safe and heard, you signal to them that they will be okay, even if they did not get exactly what they were asking for.
The good news is, as kids mature, they will gradually learn to self-regulate. And we can help them to do this by modeling self-control for them. When we stay composed and willing to talk it out even in the midst of chaos, we set an example they can follow. We show them how it’s done.
So…keep calm, mommy, and carry on.