We’ve all been there. You’re out with your child at the _____(grocery store, restaurant, library, etc.) and your child melts into a ______(screaming, yelling, crying, etc.) puddle on the floor. Over time, SEEC faculty has developed tips and tricks for dealing with the tantrum.
Stop and Drop
Unless the child is in the middle of the street or in immediate danger, we don’t try and push forward with the activity. Stop what you are doing and drop to their level so that you are face to face. This helps the conversation feel more personal and meets children on their level.
It’s easy to get flustered and frustrated when a child is upset and acting out. However, it’s often more effective to remain calm and level headed. Not only is it better for you, but you are modeling the behavior you want to see from the child. We speak slowly in a soft voice, using vocabulary that is age-appropriate and clear. What we say to a toddler might be different than a preschooler. During a tantrum, children’s brains are on over drive, so it’s important to make it easier for them to understand our words. Also, we suggest to children that they take a minute to calm themselves, so that we can better understand their words. Self-soothing is an important skill to learn and we want to give them time and space to figure that out if possible. Since children are unpredictable, it often helps to add extra time to your routine – you will both have a better day if you have time to calm down.
Acknowledge their Feelings
Adults don’t much care for it when they are upset and someone responds to them, “You’re ok!” or “Stop being upset!”? The same is true for children. It’s important to verbally acknowledge when a child is upset. Saying things like “I can see that made you very angry.” or “I know you are upset about…” will help children feel like they are being heard. It may seem little from an adult perspective, but its not for them, When we stop and listen, we are demonstrating behavior that will help them develop into adults who can deal in healthy ways with their emotions.
Pre-Verbal or Limited Language
Young children especially may throw a tantrum because they don’t have the verbal skills yet to communicate effectively. If we saw what they were doing before the meltdown, we start by narrating the preceding events. For example, “I saw you were playing with the toy and a friend took it from you. Is that what is upsetting you?” or “I watched you crawl over there and reach for a book, would you like help getting it.”
Negotiable V. Non-Negotiable
Once you’ve identified and acknowledged a child’s feelings, you still have to grapple with the tantrum trigger. In some situations, it may not be what they want but the way they went about getting your attention that was the problem. In such situations, after the child has calmed down, ask them to re-frame the request. “Can you ask me in a calm way if we can stay and play a little longer.”
Natural consequences can also be easier and more effective than having a power struggle over the tantrum. A child may not want to wear a coat on a chilly day or may insist on wearing a heavy coat in the middle of summer. Children will learn that both scenarios will result in their own discomfort. A smart parenting move is to take the weather appropriate clothing with you, so that another tantrum doesn’t result from that discomfort.
Other times, you may want to offer a child a reasonable choice: “you can’t wear sandals when its snowing, but you can choose between two shoes that you, the adult, deems appropriate for a snowstorm. Again, caregivers should encourage children to use calm and respectful language when making requests.
There will also be times when you simply are not going to give a child their way. Think about crossing the street. A child may refuse to hold your hand and begin to have a tantrum. We’ve all been there, you have 30 seconds to cross and are already running late for work. Your response can be non-negotiable – crossing streets is a safety issue and you need to stick to a schedule. Its ok to let a child be upset. You can give them the choice of holding hands or being picked up, but let them know that safety is first. Its awful to hear a child screaming, but using a calm voice and acknowledging their feelings is sometimes all that you can do. Remember, children also need to learn to cope with disappointment and frustration and a situation like this, is part of their learning journey.
At the end of the day these tantrums are a normal part of a child’s development. Although challenging, try not to feel like other’s are judging you. Chances are they have been through a similar experience with a child at some point. You are an expert on your child and ultimately know their personality better than a stranger does.
Keep an eye out for another upcoming blog on calming strategies or take a look back at 10 Tips and Tricks to help you both make it through the challenging moments.
Have something that works well for you and your family? If so, PLEASE share below. We are always grateful to be able to learn from each other!