Nobody enjoys a temper tantrum. Not the kid, not the parent. They often end with everyone feeling more miserable than when they started. And that’s just the best-case scenario.
Our kids have meltdowns for three basic reasons. First, they are struggling with naming or expressing their emotions. Talking about emotions and being able to share what’s going on inside is crucial for managing difficult emotions. Without this, emotions just bubble up to the surface in any which way. Building emotional vocabulary is key for helping this.
Second, your kid might not have the right tools to help regulate their emotions. It’s one thing to be able to name a difficult emotion. It’s an entirely different skill to know what to do about it. Even as adults, we struggle sometimes with managing difficult emotions. When our children don’t know what to do with an extremely uncomfortable feeling, they may lash out, explode, or fall to pieces.
Lastly, sometimes our kids have temper tantrums because they have figured out that they work. At some point in the past, your kid had a meltdown over something they either wanted to get or didn’t want to do and they were successful. This doesn’t mean that we were bad parents. It just means that we were dealing with other things and letting a child get what they wanted was the best choice at the time. The problem is when we do this over and over again our kids intuitively figure out that they have found a good solution to getting what they want.
Here are some quick and dirty strategies for dealing with your child’s next temper tantrum:
Keep Your Cool
Let’s be honest, you can help your child if you are in control of yourself. If you need to take a moment to make sure that you are in control of yourself, do it. When our kids are acting out, it pushes all of our buttons, and the more agitated that we are, the more likely that we are to contribute to the situation in a negative way rather than being helpful.
Be Firm and Fast
Rather than hemming and hawing over what you should do when your child starts to act out, provide them with quick clear guidance. Your response should be short in length, no more than a few words, and delivered clearly and calmly. For example, tell the child to “keep her hands to herself” or “stop that right now.” Remember that this is not your opening statement in a negotiation with your child. A kid who was melting down is not thinking clearly and is not the place to have a dialogue with you.
If the behavior isn’t dangerous and no one is going to get hurt, sometimes our best choice of action is to allow our child to just get the tantrum out of his system. Take your attention away from the child and only bring it back when you see even the smallest bit of appropriate behavior. At that point bring in the attention and praise. Be prepared for the tantrum to potentially get a little worse when you first start ignoring it. Part of the purpose of a temper tantrum is to get our attention and your child will turn up the dial to 11 to see if that works.
For more strategies for dealing with temper tantrums and other challenging behaviors, sign up for my online course. You will learn how to help kids de-escalate and how to provide them with the skills that help avoid the temper tantrum happening in the first place.