"Temper Tantrums" Reframed + 7 Actionable Tips to Guide You Through Them
A few days ago, at the library no less, one of my babies started up and steady toward a mega tantrum. We worked together (as we have been working for some time now) and managed to de-escalate it before it got completely out of hand. It was definitely a thing though, and it earned us a bit of an audience there in the "quiet zone," for sure. I was so consumed in the work of partnering with my child through the experience that I didn't really notice the lady turning red in the face and tearing up in her seat near where we were until after things had settled down a bit. My heart was still racing a little and I was trying to gather back my energies when the woman stopped me and said: "I just have to tell you. Something happened in my heart as I was watching you with your child just now. I have a close friend who has five children and she is always yelling. She tells me 'I just lose my sh!t with them' and I don't ever know what to say to her but watching that just now was... really incredible. You are an amazing mom and I'm sure you hear it all the time but really, ...just wow."
I smiled and sincerely thanked her for her affirming words, explaining that my heart was still regulating from the ordeal and I was catching my breath even as she was speaking. I also made it known to her that I know the losing of sh!t feeling (and doing!) quite well.
Parenting is labor and can be all kinds of intense. Also, it sometimes feels as if you're failing SO so much. I left that lady, truly in gratitude for the reminding and encouragement she gave, and, being me, had to do some quick writing -- to myself and to whoever else it might help today and in this life at all.
I jotted quit notes that I initially shared on Facebook. It was such a popular post that I promised to put the information somewhere more permanent. An earlier Real Life Joneses blog post, "Breathe, Baby: Teaching Children Self-Mastery" discusses a little bit of my personal approach to emotional intelligence development practice in more detail.
The points are below. I've additionally made them into a FREE .PDF for those of you who'd like to print and share. (I choose to trust that you'll be honest and credit your sources wherever you might pass along this information.)
Parent, it's usually not about you though it may feel as if it is directed at you. It is usually (though not always) frustration with some separate-from-you difficulty in the child's own journey/life that the child is experiencing from their little person perspective. They are expressing and you are, at the very first, simply witnessing. You are a special kind of witness though. You are safety, help and a source of care in your child's eyes. You are their teacher. You are their comfort. Challenging emotions can be intense and even scary for the individual who is experiencing them in their body. Just as we as adults become angry and frustrated and have difficulty making good choices when we become so, the same is true for children. They feel anger and frustration with the inability to have or do something that they would like to do and the intensity of the emotions makes it difficult for them to gather their self. Note that I am not saying because they become angry or frustrated that this necessarily means they should be given the thing they want. It may not be suitable or helpful to just hand over that toy. It may even be dangerous or impossible for the object that triggered the anger or frustration to be changed. The goal here is to focus less on the cause of the upset and more on being present for and to support the child's most immediate emotional experience, aiding them in developing emotional intelligence and the skill of self-mastery.
1. Parent, stay on top of your emotions. See your child as needing your help. Be support and guide, not enemy.
2. When you see anger signs, treat your child with dignity and respect and gently urge that they offer you the same throughout the ordeal. Speak with them face-to-face, at what would be their eye-level as much as you can when their emotions are high. Offer options that you've prior discussed (when child was calmer) for dealing with anger: "What do we do when we're angry?" [Answers: take a breath, count, take a walk, punch a pillow, meditate, look out a window, write, draw, etc.]
3. Calmly and lovingly, continue to reassure the child that you are trying to help them: "I'm trying to help you."
4. Calmly, compassionately, and sternly ask child, "Do you want to be heard or ignored? If you want me to hear you, you have to calm down. If you feel you cannot calm down, let's [walk, punch pillow, count, breathe]."
5. If the child does not respond with settling down, calmly, lovingly offer a choice: "I am trying to help you. You have 5 seconds to settle down a bit or I will have to stand away from you. Do you want me to be here to help you or to leave you for a bit?" Slowly, calmly count to 5.
More often than not, these loving, guiding questions provoke thought and awareness in the child and they begin to slowly regain mastery of their self in the moment. Sometimes, they do not.
6. Parent, hold steady. Notice your heart rate and breathing. If you are worked up, breathe and be silent. Center yourself. Do, ensure that the child is safe and step away for a bit if need be. You are an anchor in these moments. Your most powerful leading is by example.
7. When your child seems calm enough and will receive you, ask them if a hug would be helpful. If they say 'yes,' embrace them heart-fully. Take a slow, deep breath in while embracing. Then slowly exhale, still embracing. Note your own heartbeat against the breathing and heartbeat of your child's. Notice how they settle in to the safety of your arms. Just be there.
You are sowing valuable seeds for a lifetime of harvests. ✨