Calm, Cool, Connected. Three ways to avoid tantrums - at any age!
Has anyone heard of a toddler who has never had a tantrum? Anyone??? Probably not! Just as we get frustrated with others or ourselves, our kids do too! It may seem as though older children experience less moments of frustration - many may attribute that to maturity. The truth is, older kids have just as many moments of frustration that toddlers have, but they have the language to express themselves appropriately.
As a counselor and parent, I frequently face those moments when my child is screaming uncontrollably for something that seems completely unimportant, but means the world to him. Sometimes he cannot find a toy, other times his trolls do not want to stand on their own, and often times, he is just tired. So… what do we do when faced with ear-piercing crying and yelling? Here are three easy strategies to help your kiddo, and ultimately, help yourself!
1. Remain Calm.
You may be familiar with the Family Guy skit where the baby, Stewie, is attempting to get his mother’s attention. He starts by calling her by her name, then resorts to “mom” a few times, quickly followed by “mommy,” “mama,” “ma,” “mum,” “mummy,” each being said multiple times, until the mother loses her patience and screams “WHAT?!” Stewie then says, “hi!” and runs away. It is difficult to stay calm while our little ones are fighting for our attention or fighting with each other. As parents and caregivers, we are usually multi-tasking and do not respond to our kids until we snap. I am sure most can agree that this “snap” is usually not a “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” type of reaction in our softest of voices. When we react by yelling, screaming, or even with a “snappy” tone, our kids are triggered by our reaction. They may have already been agitated, and our response may further frustrate (or sometimes scare) them. As challenging as it may be, especially when there are a lot of things happening at once, take a breath before responding, and take in the situation. Fully comprehending the situation and responding with a steady voice will result in a much more pleasant interaction for you and your child. Remaining calm, paired with the next two strategies, will result in a positive change to the way your child reacts, and the way you feel overall.
Often times when we see our kids hysterically crying for what seems like – nonsense – we naturally jump into parent/teacher mode trying to rationalize with them. In attempts of helping them, we ask why they are upset and try to reason that their emotions do not make sense for the situation at hand. Although this comes natural to us, when we do this we disregard our kids’ feelings which can make them more upset. We want to make sure our kids know that we love them and we are here to help them. However, when they become miniature incredible hulks, their brains do not allow them to understand any of our attempts at reasoning with them. Instead, we should try to first soothe their sadness, anxiousness, or fear of whatever took place. This can be done by connecting with them through empathy and realizing that although one misplaced troll may seem like it is not a big deal to us, in their world, it is everything.
3. Give Them Words.
When children do not have the words to express themselves appropriately, they will turn to what comes naturally – crying and yelling. Before the tantrums occur, let's aim to teach our children the various emotions and words that go along with whatever they are feeling. However, when your child is in the middle of a screaming-fest, it is definitely not the best time to teach emotions and feeling words, as they will not be able to rationalize anything you are saying (see strategy #2). After soothing, you can simply state what you observe. For example, “I can see you’re really frustrated and upset. I would be sad and angry too if my toy broke.” Your child will feel heard and more connected to you. Older kids will also feel like you “get them” instead of dismissing them.
These strategies are appropriate whether your child is 3, 13, or 23, as long as appropriate language is used for their age. You may be pleasantly surprised by the changes and reactions you see from your child. Just recently my own four-year-old (who has a language delay) stunned me when with tears in his eyes, but without the hysterical yelling, he said, “Mami, my heart doesn’t feel well. All my feelings are gone.” I of course went into soothing mode, hugged him and thought, “His parent must be a counselor!” 😊
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Always learning, always growing, always aiming to inspire!
Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is an Educator and a Board Certified Licensed Professional Counselor who has worked with children and families for two decades. Vanessa is the owner and CEO of Free to Be Mindful - a private practice located in Ridgefield, New Jersey.
Vanessa is passionate about helping moms, kids and educators with mindful living, mental health and personal growth through efforts including:
Host of the Free to Be Mindful Podcast which provides bite-sized tips and guided meditations to anyone working with kids
Founder of Amiga Moms, a supportive network for 21st century moms offering educational events founded in mindfulness
Public Speaking and Professional Development for parents, educators and young adults on topics such as mindfulness, building healthy relationships with kids, self care, mental health and more.