Now that we are beginning year 3 of parenthood, there are a few techniques we've used to stop tantrums from escalating. Because, tantrums happen.
The hardest thing about a little person's outburst is that there is no warning. You could be anywhere, doing anything, and something triggers them; they don't understand, don't feel heard, have something to say, or feel startled. Here are 3 things we do to keep the tantrums at bay.
WHISPER IN THEIR EAR
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, to whisper into the hot ear of a screaming, crying child, but it soothes them, just like it does when they are getting ready to sleep. If we are reactive, and raise our voice or simply tell them to stop without allowing them time to calm down, the anger and confusion ramps up in a split second. If we respond in the same tone and with the same jolt of emotion they display, it's like poking the dragon-- a phrase coined by family psychologist Dr. Gregory Popcak.
We say shhhh, rub her back, and sometimes cuddle and rock her. Of course there were times when nothing worked, but we didn't give up. When tantrums were first starting out, I reached out to a mom's group I'm in asking for help, and almost all of the mamas recommended this book-- and it was a big help. I wrote a little review here.
ASK WHAT YOU DIDN'T UNDERSTAND
There have been countless times where I simply didn't understand my daughter's "idea", and I call it that for a reason. Little ones do have ideas, and they are trying to form their understanding of communication, boundaries, self-expression, and self-knowledge all at once. We can teach them respectful communication with one simple question: what was your idea?
Usually, a few more tears start to spill and the little explanation comes out. She either wanted to wear different socks, or wanted to stop to smell a flower, or wasn't finished reading/playing etc. and couldn't say it fast enough. When I acknowledge that I was the one not clear on what she was saying, it gives her power to speak her mind, which is exactly what she wanted in the first place. Additionally, it gives me the space, without yelling over her, to remind her of where I stand. I can gently remind her to stay on track, or I can choose to delay a few minutes, depending on the importance and needs at hand.
REINFORCE LOVE AND REMIND THEM HOW TO BEHAVE IN THE FUTURE
After we've talked about what caused the upset, I make sure to hug and kiss her to reinforce how much I love her. Then, I make sure to make eye contact, sometimes having to say "look at my eyes", and tell her how to communicate to me in the future. For example, I'll tell her that next time she can simply say, "Mama, I wanted to wear different socks today," and I make sure she knows that when she says that, I will hear her.
These little ones, they are just little people. And we've had many tantrums in our house. And 90% of the time, this is how we handle it because it is the fastest way to cool down a tantrum fit, and get to the point (the other 10% is when I'm really, really tired and react before I can think).
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How do you deal with tantrums? I'd love to hear what works for you. And the other fabulous women who read this would love to know what you think too! Share in the comments.