Color & Control:

Your child’s tantrum

Angry boy throwing tantrum

By Jennie Monness

If you have children, you know that feeling of dread you get when you are in the grocery store and your child’s frustration is rising. You can see a tantrum coming on, but you’re in a crowded aisle, with no easy exit, so you can only brace yourself for the storm.

No matter how you deal with your child’s episode, there will be critics in that crowd of strangers. Whether it’s at home or in a crowded grocery store, consistency and compassion are the keys to quelling your child’s frustration. While you may want to end the outburst quickly, this approach doesn’t give your child tools for weathering future storms. Here are some tips for helping your child through a tantrum and giving them tools to deal with their volatile emotions.

A sign of assertiveness

First and foremost, parents need to realize that acknowledging a tantrum is not “giving in” or “playing into their game.” Your toddler has no “game”—they have powerful emotions they can’t entirely control, yet. Your role in this scenario is to acknowledge those feelings.

For a young child, a tantrum is the earliest sign of being assertive. It is their way of expressing their uncontrollable, raw emotions. By ignoring the outburst, you are hindering future assertiveness and prolonging their time in this unpleasant place.

We want our children to grow up and be able to express themselves. As adults, we revere assertiveness. Parents need to be of the mindset that a tantrum is their child’s only way to be assertive at this stage in their development. Instead of stopping their self-expression, you need to teach them ways to deal with it and learn more effective methods of expressing those complicated feelings in the future.

A tantrum is also an indication that a need is not being met. While it may seem like an inappropriate way of getting someone’s attention, a tantrum is the only tool a young child has when powerful emotions like anger and fear set in. Children are ill-equipped to handle the physical reactions their bodies go through during these overly emotional times. This is a time for parents to connect with their children, rather than isolate and ignore them.

“Don’t stop because you’re tired.
Keep going because you’re almost there.”

Ritu Ghatourey

Acknowledge and connect

By connecting with your child, you show them you see they are upset, that you will keep them safe, that you are not scared of their outbursts and are there tohelp them. Taking the time to acknowledge the emotion and provide some calming actions, such as humming, singing, and rocking with your child will ease the tension for both of you.

Deep breathing is one great method of releasing the powerful grip emotions have on the body. Sometimes just space adjustments are needed, a smaller more intimate and contained room rather than wide-open stores.

After the storm blows over, you can explore the reasons why it occurred with your child. Don’t be too eager to go down this road. If you circle back to the issue too soon, the feeling could get stirred up again. Your purpose for talking about those feelings is not to have them recur, but to help your child understand why they happened and recognize the triggers and emotions underneath it and develop healthy ways of managing their emotions in the future.

Towards a new skillset

Parents need to be of the mindset that a tantrum is not their child being “bad.” Instead, it is their child trying to communicate a problem. And parents must also understand that giving attention during these times is not “rewarding” their child’s poor behavior. Your time and attention provide the tools needed to identify and deal with future emotions. And by giving this time, you will begin to see fewer and fewer outbursts, and eventually, everyone will be happier, more resilient and better equipped for life!

Jennie Monness teaches classes, speaks at events, runs the blog Mo’ Mommies and co-founded Union Square Play.

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