What’s your most epic tantrum story? Was it the time your child threw themselves on the ground at the mall, while everyone stared at you? Or was it when they threw their whole dinner on the floor? Was it the time that they peed in their pants at the restaurant, then screamed while taking off all their clothes in front of the other restaurant patrons? Or was it the time you insisted that they couldn’t play with the steak knife (you’re SUCH a jerk… wink)?
It’s almost funny now, but it’s MADDENING at the time. Have you ever wanted to scream and cry with them? Ever done it??
So what on earth are we supposed to do when our little love becomes a little psychopath?
Anna Page, a school psychologist for 3 to 13-year-olds, explains there are loads of ways we can improve kids’ behavior and teach our kids resilience. And this is important because we can’t control their environments for their whole lives… all we can do is teach them to tackle whatever comes their way. Here are some strategies she shared for achieving more resilient (AND better behaved) kids:
1. Use logical natural consequences, rather than punishments. If your child throws a temper tantrum and refuses to put on a raincoat, a logical natural consequence would be that they get rained on.
2. Communicate expectations clearly. Sometimes parents say, “I asked them to clean their room three times, and they didn’t, so I cancelled our Disneyland trip.” If this sounds like you, you may want to examine how you communicated your expectations. Did you give enough cues? Did you specify a time for when the toys needed to be picked up? Often parents will get better results through better communication.
3. Tell kids what TO do, instead of what NOT to do. It is OK to first tell the child, “Stop”, to prevent a dangerous situation from occurring. Just be sure to follow with an explanation of what you’d like them to do instead. For example, you can suggest they walk or use gentle hands, instead of just saying “don’t run” or “don’t throw”.
4. Keep your own emotions in check. When a child goes into a rage cycle, we have a slightly delayed rage cycle that follows theirs. A good first step is to acknowledge that you’re escalating too, and take a deep breath. Then choose the best way to respond.
5. Offer alternate options to the undesirable behavior. For example, if two kids want the same toy, they can share, take turns, or play with something else. For non-verbal kids, you can even show pictures of the different options, and they can choose a picture of the option they prefer.
6. Try to identify the cause of the tantrum. If the child is trying to communicate, try to help her with how to communicate. On the other hand, if she just wants something and you’re saying no, and it’s a power struggle, you can give options and alternatives.
7. Offer comfort and communication with limit-setting. Many negative behaviors (e.g.: biting) are very emotional for the child, especially if they want something they can’t have. You can help by acknowledging the child’s feelings, for example by saying “I can see that you’re sad. Sometimes when we’re sad, we feel angry too.” Also, by being physically near the child and speaking to them in a soothing tone, you let them know that you’re there for them.
8. Use short, simple phrases. As child enters a rage cycle, their IQ and reasoning abilities actually decline. So, little kids don’t register long explanations, during a tantrum. Ask yourself what they’re registering, and try to keep your message short and simple.
9. Let a child deescalate before trying to teach new behaviors. Again, when the child is enraged, they’re not able to register a lot, let alone learn a new skill. It’s a good idea to save the lesson for later.
10. Take time to reflect on the negative incident, after the child deescalates. Ask the child, “What are you going to do next time?”
11. Catch them being good. For example, if a child tends to push other kids and you catch them in a moment where they’re not pushing, you could say, “You’re having such a nice conversation with your friend.”
12. Be very specific with praise. Praise is very important, but empty praises are ineffective. Instead, try explaining what specifically the child did that was good.
13. Model resilience and coping strategies. Kids need to not only learn to play well, but also learn to respond resiliently when it’s time to put the toys away or when things don’t go their way. You teach them how to respond to frustrating situations by your responses to stressful situations. It’s OK to be frustrated. But if a car cuts you off, tell your child, “I’m so frustrated right now, because that person put us in danger.” Then tell them how you’re going to cope with it. For example, “I wonder what I can do. I’m going to take a deep breath and we’re going to listen to some music and shake it off.”
14. Take care of yourself. Sometimes, we focus so much on teaching our kids and putting our kids first that we neglect ourselves. We need to be able to respond resiliently to model desired behaviors to our kids though.
15. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, get treatment. This can be clinical treatment with a counselor, cognitive behavior therapy (acknowledging your own emotions and having a go-to plan), having a support system in place, learning coping skills (like going for a walk), or any number of other options. You may even want to write down coping strategies that can help in tough times.
Going back to the epic tantrums your kid has had, here’s the real question… what happens when YOU face a frustrating situation? Remember that time your cable company sent you to collections for not returning your cable box, after you’d already returned it (and you’d already explained that to them 3 times)… Did you keep your cool or start screaming and swearing at them?
Sorry, that one may not be fair. Still, your little love (psychopath?) is watching.
Anna Page demonstrated an example of resilient response, in front of both of our toddlers. In a high-pitched, playful voice she said, “Now, I’m going to shake it off”, then she raised and shook her shoulders, playfully repeating, “Shake it off!!”. Both of our kids stopped what they were doing, looked up, and started laughing—they loved it. And more importantly, if there was any stress around, a good shake and laugh wiped it away. Darn, it seems that does work better for the kids than screaming at the nearby driver and flipping them off.
So that’s it—now we’re all cured of tantrums? Ha!
Hopefully though, next time your child decides to scream and throw themselves on the ground, you’ll have some tools to teach them resilience and new behaviors for future. Or if not, at least you’ll have a little extra motivation to resist crying with them. Still no? Well, maybe at least you’ll all be able to “shake it off”, when you’re done.
And, if that doesn’t do it for you, that’s what wine is for. Good luck out there.
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