Motherhood simply wouldn't be complete without years spent wading through temper tantrums. Toddlers and young children bring us so much joy, lighting up our lives with the intensity of their fresh palette of emotions. The smiles that radiate from elated faces. The loving embrace of a child who couldn't wait to see you again. However, this intensity also leads to our little ones landing in emotionally explosive situations that they (and often, we) feel helpless to diffuse.
How to Tame Temper Tantrums
To be perfectly honest, the best ways to calm the storm of a tantrum happen before the temper tantrum is even an issue.
Taking preventative measures is essential if you want your child to learn about appropriate and expected behaviour. Once a child is in the throws of a tantrum, those strong emotions make it impossible for learning to happen.
No matter how skilled you are at putting those preventative measures in place, there will be times when a temper tantrum does happen. For those times, you'll want to know how to deal with temper tantrums. Here are some tools and tricks you can use to calm those emotions and bring your child back to a place where reason, learning, and appropriate behaviours can again be possible.
Get Down To Your Child's Level
We know eye contact and body language is important to communication. When you bring yourself down to your child's level physically, by bending, kneeling, sitting, or even lying right down on the floor, you are letting them know that you are right there with them. You will find it much easier to find that eye contact and make your desire to communicate known if you break the height barrier and communicate on a level playing field.
Empathize With Your Child
When your child loses control of their emotions, they feel that something in their world is not right. More often than not, especially for young children who are learning how to communicate, they may feel that their needs or desires are not being understood. This feeling of being misunderstood can be incredibly frustrating leading to the temper tantrum.
By acknowledging your child's feelings and desires, and empathizing about their situation, we can help to calm them. When we empathize in this way, we are showing that we do (or are trying to) understand, that it's okay to feel our emotions, and that we do care. By showing that we care, children can come to gain trust that when we do make a decision they don't like, we are doing so because we care.
A typical phrase I use during temper tantrums goes something like this, “I can see you're very ____. I know you really wanted to _____.” Give this simple understanding and acknowledgment a few moments to sink in. The next step, explaining why something must or must not happen, is important too, but knowing they've been heard must come first.
Explain Your Reasons
As parents, we may find ourselves denying wishes left, right, and centre. It's frustrating for both parent and child, this constant division of wills.
When we offer an explanation for why something must (or must not) be so, we offer a chance for children to again see that we are coming from a place of caring. In this way, we are also helping our children learn to make good choices for themselves, based on reasoning and potential consequences of our actions.
For instance, if your child is flailing out her emotions because she wants a cookie, but it is the first thing in the morning, be clear with your reasons for saying no.
First, start with getting down to her level, then empathizing, “I can see you're very upset. I know you really want a cookie. I like cookies, too. They are delicious!” After sitting with this for a moment and letting your child know you are sincere in your understanding and caring, then you can move forward with your reasons.
Wait to explain until your child's tantrum has begun to calm.
To capture your child's attention at this point, I like to use this phrase, “Do you want to know why we can't have cookies right now?” Asking a question, in a sincere tone, helps to bring your child to a place where they are more ready to hear what you have to say,“Cookies have lots of sugar. Too much sugar in the morning is not good for us. Our bodies need healthy food to give us energy for the whole day.”
Find A Solution
Teaching children to problem solve is an important life skill. When we are very upset, this is a problem. When we have a problem, we need to find a solution. Sharing this with our children, and inviting them to help find solutions to our problems empowers them to take control of the situation in a healthy way.
Sometimes children will be able to easily come up with an appropriate solution, but we can also help by offering suggestions. These might include looking forward to something, “We can eat a cookie after dinner. Won't that be nice?”, or coming up with an alternate idea, “Are you hungry? We can eat healthy food now. Would you like an apple or toast?”.
Giving appropriate choices lets children feel a sense of control, which means less time trying to gain that control through temper tantrums and other misbehaviour.
Distract From The Temper Tantrums
If all else fails, try to flip the off switch on a temper tantrum with distraction. For very young children, who have less ability to reason or think forward, this will often be the winning solution. A simple, “Hey. Do you hear something?” and going to investigate what the sounds may have been, or a “Oh my goodness! I forgot put the laundry in the dryer! Will you help me?” are magical tools for taming toddler temper tantrums.
Still, I always encourage parents to try the above tactics during temper tantrums, too. Even if we feel our youngsters are too young to fully understand us, we are setting the stage for later on.
Drawing a distinct line between when to start explaining our reasoning, or talking about feelings, is not an easy thing to do. If these acknowledgments, explanations, and modeling of problem-solving are something we practice from the get-go, not only will we become more skilled at handling these situations, but our children can begin to develop their understanding of the language we use, their emotions, and the fact that we only want the best for them.
A child is never too young to be treated with honesty and respect.
Good luck on your parenting journey! You've got this. I'm rooting for you!
P.S. Read mindfulness meditation techniques for children to help teach calming breaths.
Living Well In Motherhood
Green Moms Collective is passionate about living well in motherhood. With a little help from mothers who get it and wellness experts. Get us weekly.