Help your child get back up and move past disappointment with these 3 Easy and Positive Parenting Strategies for Taming Tantrums.
Before becoming a mom I had big dreams. Dreams of happy trips to the grocery store, talking to my child as we perused the aisles, happily and calmly making decisions together about what to buy. Those moments would also occur in the home where there would never be arguments or tantrums because only the spoiled kids do that…
Then I became a mom.
Reality looks a bit different.
As I experienced more and more grocery trips filled with tantrums, more days at home with the same tantrums, I fought it. I fought the tantrums. They weren’t okay and they were not part of my plan.
I tried bribing, pleading, yelling, distracting, you name it, I tried it. Nothing I did seemed to work. Frustrated, and defeated I began to wonder where I went wrong in the mommy department.
Until I realized I was doing it all wrong.
An Ineffective Approach
My first job as a teacher was with 2 and 3-year-old kids who had not yet learned to walk. To teach them this easy skill, my first instinct was to hold them up under their arms and hold them up as much as possible to prevent them from falling. As I did this I noticed the kid would resist that help by either lifting their legs completely off the ground or slumping in my hands. The more I held the child up, the more his body wanted to do the opposite, and as a result, there was not much progress towards walking. I was doing all the work, and the child was in the same rut of fighting me every step of the way.
That’s when a more seasoned co-worker taught me to let go and offer as little support as a child needed. That way, there was no tendency to resist my help or lean completely on me. If a child was about to fall, I was to guide them safely to the ground. In that process, the child learned to get back up and start again.
I shifted my technique and started holding each child by a piece of their shirt on their shoulders, if they pushed against what little support I gave, it would direct them to stand up, not sit down. As a result, I did less work, and the children learned how to walk on their own without me as a crutch. I was there to allow them every opportunity to succeed and fail, in a safe and supportive environment, as often as needed.
So it is with tantrums, and the reason I’ve changed my entire approach.
Tantrums are Like Falling
Just as all children learning to walk must learn how to fall and get back up, all children learning to navigate life must learn how to successfully be disappointed and move past it. Sometimes that means falling into a tantrum.
Tantrums are an expression of disappointment. Just like falling to the ground, it is an important step in the process of learning to navigate life. For that reason, tantrums don’t need to be stopped, prevented, or padded. A child who is shielded or rescued from that disappointment is one who will always rely on others to bail them out, rescue them, and buffer their fall each and every step of the way. That’s not healthy.
Common ways parents (including my younger self) buffer the fall into disappointment, and send messages that feelings are not okay is by doing the following:
Bribing: I’ll give you something if you can fake that everything is okay.
Pleading: If I’m really nice to you, life should be nice to you too and everything will be fine.
Yelling: You WILL be okay and NEED to stop being anything other than okay.
Timeouts: I don’t want to talk to you when you are hurting or upset, come back when you are happy.
Punishing: You shouldn’t be disappointed and if you are, you’ll pay for it.
3 Easy and Positive Parenting Strategies for Taming Tantrums
The job as a parent is to support a child in working through it so they come out stronger. We are there to support them in their falls to disappointment, walking by their side every step of the way but allowing them to work through the process of getting back up.
While supporting an emotional skill looks different than supporting a physical skill, the role is the same. When addressing tantrums it is important to remember parents are there to support, to teach, and to guide so learning can take place.
The process I use looks like this:
Show empathy and validate feelings. Does it ever feel like ignoring or trying to stop the tantrum actually makes it worse? That is because a tantrum is an expression of an emotion, a way for kids to communicate that something is wrong. If that expression is ignored or shoved aside, the child can either bury the feeling or get louder until they are taken seriously.
Validating the emotion right away solves that problem. We all feel all sorts of emotions, and that is OK. Showing a child that you accept that emotion helps them to feel understood.
Even if the tantrum doesn’t stop completely, through validation, the child is assured that you are there to give support and guidance, not to rescue or punish.
State the expectation. We all do well when we know what to expect. Sometimes after falling, we each need a little direction of how to get back up. In my classroom I would verbally or physically guide a child through the process of getting back up, one step at a time. The same goes for tantrums. I can verbally guide my child through the reasoning behind the situation that caused the tantrum.
Guide through a solution by asking guiding questions. Just as with teaching kids to walk, the less adults interfere, the more children are able to learn to do things on their own. Solving problems, coming up with different solutions and finding an acceptable solution is something most kids are capable of doing, with a little help and guidance.
Asking questions and guiding a child through the process of coming up with a solution is empowering for your child and encourages independence in situations like that in the future.
So, now when we’ve gone through this process in the store and my son starts to cry and can’t think of any solution in the world for his problem of not acquiring the largest Lego set in the world, I know it will be ok.
- He can cry.
- I can hold him and tell him I know it is hard.
- I can sympathize.
- I won’t swoop in and rescue him by buying a candy in the checkout line instead.
- I won’t distract him and show him the video games on the way out.
- I will let him sit in his disappointment, with me right by his side to support him as he works through the process of getting back up again emotionally.
One step at a time we will learn to walk through disappointment, falling at times into tantrums, but getting right back up and learning from each fall. One day he will do this on his own and I will stand behind him, proud of the accomplishment he made on his own.
From tantrums to power struggles, Wendy Bertagnole covers it all. With a background in special education, and as a mother of three, she offers a professional and personal perspective on how to simplify and positively address it all. Check out the free guide to simply and positively tame tantrums in your home today.