How to Handle When Your Child Throws a Tantrum
Let’s cut to the chase.
The biggest mistake you can make when your child throws a tantrum is to react emotionally and start throwing a tantrum, too.
I’m referring specifically to temper tantrums related to kids not getting their way, as opposed to meltdowns associated with being hungry, tired, or hurt. It’s important to distinguish between them to inform you of your best approach.
When a child throws an epic fit because things didn’t go exactly his way, parents are likely going to feel frustrated and annoyed. But freaking out and screaming only makes the situation worse.
Every time we “lose it” with our kids, we send them the message that we can’t be trusted to be an adult in challenging situations. We give our power away to them and communicate, “I need you to behave differently so that I can be ok.” This approach is disempowering for parents and scary for kids.
Staying calm during a child’s tantrum can be difficult at first, but with practice, we can demonstrate to our kids our ability to tolerate our own discomfort and remain relaxed and authoritative.
While I’m not a master at staying calm 100% of the time, I’ve gotten MUCH better at it over the years and I’ve coached many parents to keep their cool, too.
Below are some of the ways I’ve been able to stay calm and in control when my children have been anything but.
I keep my voice steady and at a normal volume.
I take deep breaths. Lots of them.
I say things like, “When you choose to calm down, then we can talk.” I use the word “choose” deliberately to emphasize that she’s responsible for and in control of her own behavior. Depending on the setting, I might tell her that I’m going into another room and that I’ll return when she’s calm for x number of minutes. Note: I don’t just walk away or abandon her.
I accept the reality of the situation rather than indulging in the thought that she “should” be acting any differently.
I tell myself, “My child is having a problem, not being a problem.” This puts me in a much better mindset to be compassionate and supportive.
I ignore comments intended to pull me into an argument or shift the blame onto me or somebody else. It’s easy to become defensive and reactive when my kids don’t take responsibility for their actions, but I’ve learned not to give in to the temptation and to just keep quiet.
I believe that it’s important for her to learn how to tolerate discomfort and to understand that pitching a fit won’t get her what she wants, so I don’t give in or feel guilty because she’s upset.
I allow all the feelings to come out with a goal of helping her regain her composure. I don’t attempt to reason with her or lecture her.
Once she’s calm, I engage her in a conversation about why she’s upset and provide language to help her identify and validate her feelings. For example, “You feel angry/disappointed/sad/frustrated.”
I reestablish a loving connection with a hug. Physical contact after such an emotional ordeal can be healing for both children and parents, and lets kids know they’re still loved no matter what.
By practicing this approach, we can show our kids that we can be trusted to remain in control when they don’t know how to control themselves.
Are you ready to stop yelling and start connecting with your kids? Check out my online course, Parenting with Patience!