because it’s not always easy seeing our child upset
These tips will work in the comfort of your home or in certain public places. But in certain public places, like a grocery store, it’s okay to decide to verbalize/empathize and pick up your child and leave the store.
If you had a great day where you slept amazing, got a workout in, chatted with some friends, and everything went perfect; you would have the mental space to handle all the emotions of your child’s tantrum. But the truth is, life happens and things pile up into our mental space, which means we have much less space for the emotions of others. This can make tantrums extremely emotionally draining and a source of a lot of stress for parents.
However, we have to remember that the tantrum will pass. It’s a moment in time that doesn’t define your child or you as a parent and our reaction matters.
First, let’s discuss why tantrums and meltdowns can be so triggering
Crying creates an emotional and visceral response in us that tells us something is wrong in that moment. Therefore, depending on how you cope with stress and anxiety; you may want to cry, you may want to yell, or you may want to go into a corner and be alone until the screaming and crying stops.
However, it is important to remember that our reaction to our child’s tantrum is important in teaching them regulation skills. If we are calm in the face of chaos, they will learn this eventually as well.
Our children (especially toddlers) are not capable of regulating their emotions in chaos, so we have to be the calm one to avoid an escalating situation.
Please remember, the tantrum is not the time to reason with your child
Imagine the last time you were very upset about something. You probably didn’t need a lecture on why what you did was wrong or what you should do next time. Depending on what your temperament and mood at that moment was, you probably just needed some space and/or someone to empathize that what you were feeling was valid.
The same applies with our children. When emotions are flying, their reasoning skills are offline (or still developing). You need to connect with them emotionally FIRST and teach later.
So what steps can you take to get you BOTH through a tantrum?
Take a breath, get a glass of water, or eat something to give you energy. You have to be in your best mental state possible before you become the conductor on the tantrum train.
Keep these things in mind – Did you have a bad day at work? Did you argue with your partner? Did you sleep like crap? Are you hungry? ALL of these things can impact how we emotionally show up for our child.
If you had a low stress day where everything went AMAZING, you wouldn’t be as triggered by their intense emotions. But, we are dealing with a lot in our lives and our reaction to our kids is often related to the rest of the things in our lives that are bottling up into that moment.
Get down to their level
If you are able to, stop what you’re doing and sit on the ground on your knees so you can be eye level with your child.
If you are not able to sit down at that moment, crouch down so you can be eye-to-eye to them so they feel a stronger connection than you hovering over them. If this isn’t possible. explain to them that you see them but you’re attending to something else right now (example-multiple children and you’re alone).
Emotional connection is largely body language and unspoken. Being eye-to-eye will help connect or even just verbal recognition.
Before you even say a word, your body language, is present and engaged.
Put your arms out & become a narrator
Put your arms out like you’re offering a hug and begin narrating. “I see that you are very frustrated because you can’t go outside right now. It’s okay to be upset. I’m here if you need me. You can give me a hug or if you need some space that’s okay too.”
I use this technique because it allows your presence to be felt, but puts the child in control of what they need at the moment. Like us, sometimes they just want to be alone, but validated in their feelings and other times they need your physical touch.
Continue narrating & empathizing while holding certain boundaries
Use phrases like, “I see”, “I hear”, so they recognize that you are visualizing and empathizing with them through their emotional roller coaster.
If they begin hitting, kicking, or throwing items, continue to verbalize. “I see that you are frustrated and it’s okay to be frustrated but I can’t have you throw.”
If they do it again, repeat the boundary and say “I see that you’re upset but I can’t have you throw. I’m going to give you a big hug to hold your body.”
Continue verbalizing their emotions because it will help you
Narrating (or verbalizing) helps to keep us grounded when our child’s emotions are high. When anxious, it can help calm our heart rate since we are labeling things we are noticing. Use phrases like, “I see”, “I hear”, so they recognize that you are visualizing and empathizing with them through their emotional roller coaster. You don’t need to constantly be talking to fill the space. I find some parents do this because they’re uncomfortable with the crying. Narration should help you calm your heart rate. If it doesn’t, stop talking and take deep breaths and/or sit down near your child. The key to getting your child through their meltdown is to calm yourself so you don’t join their dysregulation.
By doing this, we are regulating our emotions to avoid the large scale yelling matches that can ensue when our children are having a meltdown.
Sitting down (or kneeling down) can also help fight that fight-or-flight response that makes us start to yell.
Keep your narrating at a normal speaking volume.
Redirect (if able) with a power of choice
While narrating and holding that space for your child’s feelings, continue to hold the boundary and offer two choices to your child to redirect them.
By offering two choices, you give them control in a time they are dysregulated. “I see you are frustrated and you want to go outside. But right now we are playing inside. Do you want to play with your blocks or your truck?”
Continue holding space and intermittently offering a choice. They may not want anything and that’s okay.
If you are speaking, you are verbalizing what you are seeing and not reasoning with them.
Important reminders when your child is having a tantrum
Sometimes, you need to recognize when you do not have the mental capacity to deal with a tantrum and defer to a partner or some other adult.
If you are the only adult, take those deep breaths and remember it will end.
Remember not to reason with your child in the moment.
Remember that we have to be the calm one in chaos since our children are not capable of it.
Sometimes, you WILL lose your cool. And that is okay. It’s all about setting ourselves up for the next time.