Ooooo. We’ve all been there or will be there as parents. Those moments of dysregulation of your child’s tantrum. It can be viscerally uncomfortable for us as parents to see our child cry. It may make your heart rate go up, it may make you nauseous, dizzy, or make your feel overstimulated (more to come on that). It’s important to recognize this so you can approach the tantrum with an understanding of your emotions. Here’s what to do.
One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make during a tantrum
One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make is OVER-VERBALIZING during a tantrum. Validation and verbalizing of feelings IS important: “I see you are upset because we can’t watch your show.” “I see” and “I hear” are important validating phrases so our child sees that we understand their feelings. BUT, there is such a thing as filling the space with too much verbalizing when it’s not needed. ONE verbalization and validation is for them. The rest (if it happens) is for YOU to stay calm. When they are dysregulated, they are not registering incessant verbalization (the verbalizing parents do over and over and over).
Have you ever felt dysregulated yourself and talked yourself down? THAT is what validation and verbalizing can do. By narrating what you’re seeing and how your child is feeling in a calm, conversational tone, it can slow down your heart rate and bring you mindfully into the moment.
Verbalize and validate?
Sometimes, parents hear “verbalize and validate” and fill the space over and over with that while their child is shrieking. Many parents tell me that their child shrieks more with their parent verbalizing and talking to them in their face. Imagine being so upset and someone just keeps repeating validating and verbalizing phrases over and over in your face. It doesn’t feel natural and doesn’t help. Sometimes, you just want someone to sit in your vulnerability with you and be a non-verbal source of calm and strength.
So what can you do?
Pro tip: Validate and verbalize once during a tantrum. And then – stay quiet. Stay in the room with them. Sit down if you can. If you can’t sit (other siblings, something on the stove, etc), go to where you need to be and tell them where you’re going. “I see you’re upset and I’m giving you a moment. I’m right here in the kitchen if you need me.” Use your body language to show you are not afraid of their tears, you are not upset by their tears, nor are you uncomfortable by their feelings.
If the tantrum is still going on after a round of validation and pausing and silence, kneel down and offer a hug with another round of validating verbalization. Sometimes, your child will want the hug and other times they may need a moment.
The key to tantrum management
The key to tantrum management is 100% controlling our response. The more of a rise we give, the more of a rise they will get. It becomes a cycle of dysregulation. We have to do whatever it is that keeps us cool so they model the cool behavior. Sometimes, it means putting on music and dancing after verbalizing and validating. Other times it means sitting in silence. The next it may mean kneeling down. You don’t need to leave your child for this to happen. (More to come in the future if you use time-outs and how to use this effectively).
Try holding space for your child more. This means being silent in the face of their dysregulation. This means taking a deep breath and remembering that this moment is fleeting and you and your child both will get through this. I’ve been there, too. You can get through it and you can train yourself to be calm in both body language and tone during the meltdowns.
P.S. Check out this Monday Mornings with Dr. Mona podcast episode where I speak with Casey about her daughter MJ. We discuss how to set boundaries in the moment of a tantrum aaand try to keep our cool!