Ever want to just walk away from your child when he/she is throwing a fit in the middle of the grocery store and maybe ask onlookers, “Whose kid is that?” When my daughter was about two, I can vividly remember just such an experience. I got through it at the time as best as I could but have learned over the years a few more tips for dealing with tantrums. It may seem like your child is doing this just to embarrass you, but what your child needs is a connection to you. They need to learn how to deal with their emotions and parents need to help them understand how to do so. Throwing tantrums can be frightening for the child but until they learn how to deal with their anger or frustration it may be the only way they know to reach out for help.
If the tantrum has begun in a public place:
- Remain calm. Remember you are modeling for your child how to act in the situation.
- Connect and Redirect. Neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, a parenting expert, talk about how when your child is having a “temper tantrum” or is flooded with emotions trying to reason won’t work. First acknowledge the feelings of your child, (CONNECT), comfort your child. Once your child feels heard, then you can reason or be more logical. After connecting, then REDIRECT, by offering to two choices. For example, if your child is 3 years old you can ask him if he feels calm and is ready to continue eating, grocery shopping, etc. OR you ask if he wants to go outside to the car where he may continue his outburst until he is ready to be calm. Part of connection is labeling the child’s experience and giving them the words or vocabulary to describe their emotional experience. This helps build healthy self-regulation and emotional intelligence. Sometimes your response in CONNECTING is enough. If you need to respond further with action, then you can explain what the child did wrong or that they can’t have that piece of candy while checking out at the grocery store.
- Use Calm and Caring Responses. It is always important to wait until the child is calm enough that you can talk about what happened. You are not a horrible parent if you let your child tantrum for a long period of time (even though on-lookers may make you feel that way). Do not give in because you feel your child has continued the tantrum too long. You can say, “I’m sorry. You cannot have that now.” Remember, your child is learning a new way of dealing with feelings of frustration and anger and it will take time. It is always important to respond to your child with compassion and tell them what is expected of them in a calm caring way.
- Reassure the Child She is Safe and Secure. All tantrums do come to an end. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes (which may seem like an eternity). This is the time to reassure your child they are safe and secure with you and that they can talk about their frustrations/feelings with you. Continue to be consistent and provide your child with a loving, secure environment in which to grow. Now is the time to help them learn to deal with their emotions (self-regulation) so that when they become teens or adults they do not continue to throw a fit instead of calming down and dealing with their emotions.
LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
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