We’ve all seen them, and we’ve all dreaded them happening to OUR child – the dreaded temper tantrum…eek!!!
While they are not something that need to be condoned or encouraged, by any means, tantrums do have a purpose; and understanding that purpose can sometimes help us as parents, or grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc., calm our child down.
Tantrums usually manifest when a child has just had enough. They’ve had enough of being told what to do; they’ve had enough of all the noises going on around them; they’ve had enough of siblings taking their things, or breaking their things. They are just done with everyone around them, and they have become overwhelmed with feelings that they don’t know what to do with.
Have you ever experienced a time where you were trying to get someone to see your side of a situation, but everything you said, they had a comeback; so much to the point where you wanted to either scream or throat chop them so they’d listen (this could be a literal or figurative throat chop)?
That is similar to how kids feel when they have a tantrum, except they may not always say it with words. They show their frustration rising through their behaviors – like clenching their fists, or teeth; squeezing their eyes tight; wringing their hands together – the list could go on and on.
The best way to manage a tantrum is to start to notice the signals your child is giving that they are about to “lose it.” When you see this happening, you want to pull them aside and ask them calmly if something is bothering them; then you would want to use a calming strategy to help them reset and recharge (check out some of my other blogs to find some strategies that will work best for you and your child). After they are relaxed and in a calmer mindset, you would want to ask them what happened that got them upset, do they think they handled it in the best way, and what could they do differently next time?
And that is in a perfect world.
Yes, that is what we strive for, but kids do not always follow the perfect world scenario.
But really, it’s not their fault; at least, not always.
Their brain is not wired to start thinking logically about events until around age 6 or 7. And it’s not until around age 11 that they can start thinking more abstractly and hypothetically of, “If I do this, the result would be this. What are the consequences of my actions? Am I okay with that?”
So asking a 2 year old to stop and think about their actions, before they act, is literally something their brain is not wired to do at this age.
When a young child’s emotions build to a certain point, they just act. They aren’t thinking about what they’re doing; they just know they feel uncomfortable with whatever they are feeling and they want to get it out.
It’s good to have some release. However, full-on tantrum mode is less of a release, and more of a child screaming for help.
Responding to a tantrum with screams, threats, spanking, etc., only confuses your child more. There are cells in our brain, referred to as mirror neurons (you can read more about them here: The mind’s mirror), that have been shown to be the reason we respond with certain feelings to other’s actions almost as intently as we would if we were performing the action. What this means for you and your child is, if you respond to your child in a loud, aggressive, and aggravated tone, they will keep responding to you in the same tone, and things will continue to escalate. But, if you respond to them in the opposite manner, then they are more likely to calm down sooner and follow your lead.
It’s all about the direction you show them. You know they are overwhelmed, and they don’t know how to think through what they can do to calm themselves down; so you have to be the model.
But what exactly do you model?
Here are a few ways you can help tame a child’s tantrum without saying a word (and I know these can work because I’ve had to use them with my own kids as well):
Breathe. Sit down where you are and just breathe. In slowly through your nose for 7, and out slowly for 10. Continue to breathe for as long as it takes. It’s not only good practice for you so you don’t start screaming yourself, but it’s a great way to model relaxation for your child.
Give a hug. You don’t have to say anything. Just reach over and give a hug. I do want to warn, that sometimes just reaching out and hugging can be a trigger for a child to get more frustrated. So an alternative is to sit down and hold your arms out to offer the hug when they are ready. You don’t need to sit with your arms out the whole time, but every once in a while, when you see them look up, hold your arms up to signal to them you are there when they are ready.
Read a book. Preferably one that you know is their favorite. You don’t need to read out loud; just calmly start turning the pages, making happy faces as you go through.
Practice a yoga move. Yoga is a great relaxation technique for any age. You don’t need to be doing any crazy headstand moves or anything, but more simple yoga techniques like the child’s pose or corpse pose. These poses can help trigger a state of deep rest and relaxation all on their own.
Turn on music. Either fun dancing music or calm, classical music. The choice is yours and can depend on the situation. If dancing is a better distraction for your child, and it’s something they enjoy, then by all means go for the fun more upbeat music. But if focus and calm is more what you’re looking for at the time, then go for the classical.
Are there other ways that you have been successful with calming a toddler during a tantrum? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!