I know your kid is pretty great overall. Kids usually are! However, I also know that your kiddo has the ability to make or break your day. Let’s talk about tantrums.
Why are tantrums hard? For about a million reasons but I believe what it truly comes down to is the loss of control. We really like to be able to control things when we want to. In a tantrum, the child and parent are each working to gain control to make the situation better. Unfortunately during a tantrum it doesn’t feel like you are on the same side as your child and that’s why it feels like a battle. IF you can safely ignore a tantrum, great. You have literally picked your battles and that particular meltdown wasn’t worth fighting. A couple things to keep in mind: tantrums should stop around Kindergarten because at this point children have developed greater regulation and communication skills. Also, tantrums that are effectively addressed should not be lasting more than 10-15 minutes. Message me through my home page if either of these things are a concern for your child, I’d be happy to talk more about this with you. Here are my five tips for dealing with the hot mess that is a tantrum.
~For children under three years old, redirection is a great way to prevent or stop a tantrum. Think of ANYTHING else to do; “Hey, let’s go check out our flowers and see how big they are!”. “Let’s count the lights on that building!” Singing a song, dancing, or talking in a funny voice can also divert their attention effectively. Approaching three years old, children can start learning coping strategies for when they are upset-deep breaths (I like using bubbles to practice with my clients) squeezing a stress ball, counting to 10/ABCs. Here’s a list of more ideas. The key to this is practice and this needs to happen when the child is calm. It can be a fun daily 5 minute activity you can do together and this will come more naturally when the child is upset.
~Walk them through emotional processes. Name feelings and normalize them “it’s ok to be mad. It’s not ok to throw toys”. Tell them what you notice in their face or body “I see you clenching your fists and I wonder if you’re mad” to help them identify physiological cues. Remind them you are there to help them with their feelings.
~Be prepared and set expectations. Does your child get super hangry? Make sure to pack a snack if out running errands. Do they know what is happening and what you expect? As kids, my mom would tell us “I have to buy lots of groceries today so it will take a little longer. If you ask me for anything while we are at the store you will not get anything”. And she wasn’t kidding. Set expectations and follow through. Also, natural consequences can be great tantrum busters “if we are able to shop fast today we will have more time at the park. That means I need you to stay in the cart and help me when I ask”. Side benefit; this can help your child develop regulation and reasoning skills;
~When kids are busy doing other things, they are too busy to have a tantrum. Games such as “I Spy” are great distractions at home or while out and about (it’s also fantastic for vocabulary development and critical thinking). Kids also love to help so assign them kid-friendly jobs such as setting the table, getting items at the grocery store, etc. It’s more work for you up front but over time it will pay off in a big way.
~Give the tantrum as little attention as possible. Most tantrums will stop when they are not fed by attention which is easier in a contained environment, like at home. If you are in public, do not try to reason with your child. Pick them up and carry them outside (or at least to a different or quieter area. Just the change alone can help). It’s not fun, I get it, but I have done this before and suffered through the dirty looks of onlookers and we all got through it! Remind your child of the expectations and tell them you will wait with them until they are calm and then you will try again. You got this!