By Christine Rushford, Coastal Counseling
Last month we talked about how to prevent your child from throwing a tantrum. Some of you may have thought, “That’s great, but what do I do in the midst of a melt down?” You’ve already made sure your child has been fed and had plenty of sleep. You provided your child with age appropriate control and decision-making power. You’ve even ensured daily one-on-one attention, yet he is still lying spread eagle on the kitchen floor in hysterics!
When your child is in the midst of a temper tantrum, the first person to focus on is you. It can be very frustrating when your child loses control of his emotions, and in that moment it’s tempting to lose your cool as well. Take a few slow, deep breaths to ease your own angst. Maybe even step away for a minute (provided your child cannot get hurt having his tantrum).
The second step is to identify what kind of tantrum this really is. Sometimes children realize that a tantrum is the perfect trick to get parents to give into demands. If this tantrum would stop immediately if you gave in, then you know its a manipulative tantrum. In this case, it is important to provide clear, loving boundaries in a firm, but calm, tone. It might sound something like this, “I know you are angry that you can’t have that toy, but I don’t like the way you are behaving. If you don’t stop now, you won’t get that toy and you will not be able to play with Suzy tonight.” Here is the difficult part—you MUST follow through with the consequence you have stated will happen. When you provide that firm, consistent boundary, your child learns that it is ineffective and even detrimental to behave that way. It might take a few tries, but he will eventually cease using this tactic, as long as you remain consistent.
If this is a tantrum where your child has genuinely lost the ability to regain control of his emotions, then the next step is to meet your child with empathy. All behavior is communication, and when a child is having a tantrum, he is communicating that he is emotionally overloaded. Identify the emotion that your child is expressing and give him that feeling word that he is unable to verbalize. This step would sound something like this, “I know you are so angry that you can’t play with your friend right now. It’s really hard to not get to do what you want…” Providing empathy should be used low to the ground where your child is. Make eye contact if possible. Some children will allow you to touch them, while others will scream, “Stay away from me!” A child who is understood and whose parents “get” him will be more likely to calm down. If a child feels unheard or misunderstood in his time of difficulty, he will ratchet it up a notch until heard. In their book, “The Whole-Brain Child” by Dr.’s Siegel and Bryson, they call this the “Connect and Redirect Technique.” The goal is to connect to your child by using soothing tone and touch (the right side of your own brain) to help him to better regulate his emotions (his right side of his brain). Once your child has calmed down, you can begin to discuss his behavior or consequences if necessary.
Sometimes, you can catch a tantrum before it becomes a full-blown meltdown. Try implementing humor or physical movement. If you do something silly to catch your child’s attention, it might distract her from the meltdown. Or if you can get your child moving her body prior to tantrum, the movement can actually help relieve the pent-up emotion and reintegrate the body and brain for optimal functioning.
To learn more about tantrums, visit my website: www.christinerushfordcounseling.com