Staying Sane During Insane Moments:  What NOT to do During a Tantrum

March 30, 2017

Posted By: Shaunescy


Tantrums can be challenging, even in the best of circumstances. We all know how often they tend to spring up at the very worst possible times (such as when we are visiting a child care we sincerely hope to gain admission to). With some thoughtful preparation and planning, one can sail through the childhood squalls with some grace and minimal wear and tear. When preparing for the challenges of tantrums, it can be helpful to know some of the don’ts – along with the do’s – of handling them.

Don’t Take it Personally

It is important to remember that a tantrum is not about us, or our skills as parents. Tantrums occur when children experience feelings that are just too big for them to handle. Such big feelings (that are often overwhelming and feel to the child as if they will last forever) can be very scary and lead children to just react from a place of emotion – they just don’t know what to do with such big feelings.

Don’t Get Pulled in Emotionally

A tantruming child can create an emotional vortex that can easily pull us in. Becoming emotionally involved in our little one’s emotions can magnify them, further scaring and overwhelming them. Remember they are reacting from feelings that are so big they don’t know how to handle them. By remaining calm and reassuring, our presence can be like oil poured on boiling water – calming and keeping the waters from boiling over. Our children need us to show them how to return to a calm center by remaining calm ourselves.

Don’t Try to Reason

Deep, overwhelming emotions cannot be reasoned with, because the feeling center of the brain can become so engaged that our thinking brain disengages in order to allow for split-second, life-saving decisions. This protective reaction means that our children cannot easily hear us, process what we say or reason with us mid-tantrum. It is important to talk about the events that may have led up to the tantrum, but we just need to wait to do that until after the child has calmed down and can listen to us again.

Don’t Walk Away or Isolate Your Child

One of the most frightening things we can do when our children are feeling emotionally overwhelmed is to isolate them in a “time out” or walk away. During a tantrum our little ones need us more than ever. They need us to sit or stand calmly nearby, ensuring that they are safe, and staying beside them through this scary time. Walking away sends our children the message that our love is conditional and that they can lose it during times when they make sad choices or engage in challenging behavior.

Don’t Try to Shock Your Child Out of a Tantrum

Attempting to “shock” children out of a tantrum by giving them a spanking, trying to “lighten the mood” by laughing at them, imitating the tantrum or filming them, all can potentially send the message that their feelings are unimportant. Just imagine how we would feel if a giant (who said they loved us) did some of those things to us when we were feeling deep, overwhelming, intense emotions.

Don’t Try to Bribe the Tantrum Away

Bribery may seem to be effective, at least temporarily, but it comes with hefty consequences. The last thing we want to do is set a pattern of engaging in sad behavioral choices in order to get “rewarded.” The biggest reward we can give our children is showing them how to calm themselves, that feelings come and go and that we will always lovingly be there for them. Rewarding and calming with technology or treats (such as candy or ice cream) can set unhealthy behavioral patterns for our children. We have all used some form of bribery at some time or another; the important thing is to not use it as our go-to strategy when dealing with difficult and challenging behaviors.

Staying Sane

There is no question that tantrums can be trying on all our resources and reserves (emotional, physical and cognitive); they are trying on our children too. The best strategy is to try to prevent tantrums before they occur. Look out for cues that our children are becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Develop strategies that empower our children and ease our movement through each day (such as letting children know ahead of time what will be happening that day, offering choices, balancing calm and stimulating times throughout the day, and having clearly stated, and understood, behavioral expectations). Most of all, it is important to be a calm, loving presence beside our children as they learn how to handle their very BIG emotions.

Sara Silva is a Pyramid Model Coach for Child Care Connections.

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