I have a confession: I used to love seeing kids have tantrums. Every time I passed a toddler thrashing on the grocery store floor or saw a red-faced kid screaming at the playground, a part of me breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness, I thought. Other people’s kids do this, too.
We’ve all chuckled over the “Reasons My Son is Crying” blog or a friend’s tale of their own tot’s tantrum, because it’s so reassuring to see just how normal these outbursts are, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to handle when they come from our own kids.
In our last post, Tiny Habits Academy director Linda Fogg-Phillips detailed strategies for helping parents to keep their cool when a kid is blowing up, but kids need help learning to negotiate their own big feelings as well. She mentioned my son, Gavin, and my goal to help him (and myself) to learn to deal with frustration without throwing a fit. In the Tiny Habits for Moms course, I learned some great strategies that have helped me and both my kids to develop emotional resilience and put irritations in perspective.
1. Meet Primary Needs
Linda reminded us that people who are hungry, thirsty or tired have trouble keeping their emotions in check, and that goes double for children. I’ve learned that the combination of after-school hunger and homework makes it hard for Gavin to push through the afternoon without drama. Now I set him up for success by making sure he is getting enough rest, and that his blood sugar stays stable throughout the day.
Sample Habit: After my child sits down to work on his homework, I will give him a healthy snack and a glass of water.
2. Join Their Team
My friend Amanda’s son is a lot like Gavin, and she has said that sometimes she feels like she’s his emotional punching bag. Kids come to us with their frustrations because they want our help, but sometimes their efforts at getting it are clumsy and even downright abusive.
When one of Tiny Habits for Moms coach Brittany Herlean’s three boys becomes frustrated and starts taking his feelings out on her, she reminds him that she is not the enemy, and that she is on his side. Then she helps him redirect his focus by identifying the real problem, and helping him to find a solution.
Sample Habit: When my child yells at me, I will remind him that I am on his side.
3. Identify Tantrum Triggers
To deal with tantrums, outbursts and general moodiness, try to identify the root of the problem. It might not be as obvious as you think. Some are predictable; you know that these circumstances often challenge your kid. Common triggers include:
- Perceived unfairness (“I wanted the pink one!” “You always take her side!” “His class got cupcakes and mine didn’t!”)
- Unforeseen circumstances (“It’s raining? But I wanted to go to the park!” “We’ve been in this line toooo looooong!”)
- Struggling with a challenge (“I can’t put my socks on!” “These Lego’s won’t stay together!” “I’m never going to finish my homework!”)
These triggers are pretty immediate, but some are much subtler. If a kid’s fit seems way out of proportion or just doesn’t make sense, step back and look at what’s going on in the rest of her life. Like hunger and thirst, feeling out of control or neglected can give kids a hair trigger. So can trouble with friends or stress at school, which may sap your kids emotional resilience and manifest in general snappishness.
Deal with the bad behavior, but follow up with a heart-to-heart once things have calmed down to see if your child is struggling with something unknown. Find ways to give your child more of whatever they need (like autonomy or affection) once the conflict is over, or help them to find solutions to the problems that are causing stress.
Sample Habit: After my child has a tantrum, I will snuggle her in the rocking chair.
Sample Habit: After my child pulls out her homework, I will help her outline a study plan for her test.
4. Help Them to Self-Soothe
Over the years I’ve tried a number of strategies to help my son Gavin deal with his mercurial temperament. Yoga didn’t help; a meditation app did. Counting to ten makes him angrier. Folding origami is magical. I spoke to some of the moms from my Tiny Habits for Moms group, and together we amassed a list of ideas that have worked for us. Try a few for yourself and see what happens.
- Get moving: Go for a walk, run or swim. Shoot some hoops or punch a punching bag.
- Focus on your senses: Rub a smooth rock or a soft piece of fabric. Chew gum or sniff a scented pencil.
- Distract yourself: Fold origami, doodle, or play with a toy. Take three deep breaths or count to ten.
- Keep a talisman: Focus on a special amulet, toy or object. Imagine it giving you strength and removing bad feelings.
- Take a break: Walk to the drinking fountain, lie in bed and read a book, listen to a guided meditation, take a minute to play with the dog.
- Give yourself a pep talk: Tell yourself, “I can do this!” or “I’m almost there!”
- Seek comfort: Snuggle a blanket, lovey, parent or pet.
- Make it tiny: Break dreaded tasks into bits. Focus on a single homework problem, a single toy to put away or a single bite to eat.
When I feel like hitting, I will stomp my feet.
When I get suck on a homework problem I will tell myself, “I can do this.”
5. Think Like a Scientist
Being a mom is a lot like being a scientist. Your child is an unknown element, and it takes some experimenting to learn what causes a reaction, and how to prevent one. As they get older, their triggers and strategies will change, and so will yours. Finding the right recipes can take time, but remember, you’re also teaching your children to be more aware of their emotions and more able to act on them in a healthy and socially acceptable way, and that lesson will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Tantrums are just one of the challenges moms face every day. To learn how the Tiny Habits method can help you to deal with everything from the dinner dishes to your relationship with your spouse, join our next session of Tiny Habits for Moms.