Tantrums are some of the most challenging experiences, for both parents and kids. Here is a 4-step solution to tantrums, meltdowns and outbursts.
We’ve all been there. The defiance, the crying-so-hard-they-can’t-breathe, the flailing of the arms and legs. They happen in the privacy of our homes or under the glaring eyes of others in public. No matter where, dealing with tantrums challenges even the calmest of moms.
And while tantrums will happen, we have ways to cope when one smacks us in the face.
Sure, there’s temperament. Even among my kids, I can see differences in how each one reacts and what ticks them off. What works for one may not work for the others.
But we can handle the situation better using other means. To lessen their frequency and their intensity. To prevent them from happening in the first place:
So, what is the solution to tantrums?
Tantrums and outbursts are inevitable. We’ve connected with our kids and made sure life runs smoothly. But as we know, kids will throw a fit at some point. What do you do when your child starts acting up? Let’s paint a picture: a girl is jumping on the couch even though she knows not to. Here’s what to do:
#1: Honor the impulse.
Step back and acknowledge the impulses that drove her to jump on the couch. Yup, before you even we dole out the discipline. Before we raise our voice or use this as a “teachable moment,”
Why? Doing so helps us determine the reason she decided to break the rules. And we realize that the impulse itself wasn’t bad, even if the actions were wrong. Jumping is awesome—it’s a skill we would want our kids to have. It’s enjoyable and appropriate behavior in other circumstances.
When we honor their impulses, we send the message that we’re on their side. We show empathy with their motives, regardless of their misbehavior.
#2: Say the rule.
Once we’ve acknowledged the reason they misbehaved, reiterate the rule we’ve established. Here’s where we can say that jumping on the couch isn’t something you do. We’re saying that while jumping is okay, doing so on the couch is not.
#3: Give the reason.
We’re not always the “bad guy.” Give your kids the reason they can’t break the rules. In our example, jumping on the couch is dangerous or might break the couch.
Now that she knows jumping is okay but just not on the couch, redirect her to a more appropriate way to do so. Maybe she can jump on the floor, or outside, or during another time.
Not all redirection works, though. Sometimes we don’t have alternatives to the behavior, no matter how innocent it may be. I live on a top floor of a building where jumping would drive the neighbors crazy.
But if possible, redirect kids towards a similar but more appropriate activity. Throwing the remote control isn’t allowed, but throwing the rubber ball is.
Prevent tantrums in the first place
What’s your home like?
When we talk about preventing tantrums, we talk about the moments leading up to them. Things like making sure not to take the kids out on long errands when they haven’t had lunch yet. Yes, we should practice these survival tactics (hence my stash of snacks in our diaper bag!).
But before any of that, before we even sense a tantrum brewing, what’s the well-being of our homes? Our kids mirror what’s going on in their world. Not meeting their needs because things are chaotic can lead to tantrums.
Take care of yourself, your marriage, and everything in your home. That way, when you’re with your child, you can give her the attention she needs. It’s not a coincidence that when we’re most stressed, distracted or impatient is when our kids act up.
When I’m thinking straight, I have a clearer vision of what’s going on with my kids when they’re upset or need me. I don’t snap or lose my temper when life flows smoothly. Kids whine less when we meet their needs.
Connect with your kids
When our kids haven’t seen us in a while, they need their “buckets refilled.” Maybe that’s after a day at school or even at night while we sleep. Meanwhile, we’re thinking about other things like errands or rushing through the morning routine.
When we reunite with our kids, we feel frazzled and less eager to see them as they are to see us.
How about if we open the door to their bedroom and greet them with a warm hug? Or a smile when we spot them in the roomful of kids? We can feel glad to see them again, and they’ll reward us with more compliance and less resistance.
Take it further: spend a few minutes fully engaged with your kids. Sit next to them as they snack and ask them about their school day. Or play trucks on the floor a few minutes before leaving for work. No other distractions or tasks—just you and your kids.
These simple interactions make kids want to behave that they’re less likely to throw a fit. They’d have less of a need to whine.
Your life flows more harmoniously when their needs as well as yours are met.
The four steps in action
String these steps together and your response to your child jumping on the couch might go like this:
“Whoa! Looks like you’re having fun jumping (honor the impulse), but we don’t jump on the couch (say the rule). You might get hurt, or the couch might break (give the reason). Let’s jump on the floor instead (redirect).”
When the tantrum begins
Let’s say the above steps don’t work. She continues to jump on the couch, with defiance at that, as if taunting you to see what you’ve got. It looks like a meltdown is inevitable and you’re bracing yourself for how to tackle it.
First: It’s okay to give yourself a time out. You might feel your temper rising (or perhaps you’ve already yelled something you regret). Step away from the room for a minute or two to calm yourself down.
We can’t always maintain composure especially when we’re ready to snap at our kids. A quick break may calm you down. And let your child know you need a quick break to find your cool.
But don’t give your child a time out. Instead, give her a time in.
What? Reward her crazy behavior? you might ask.
No, letting her “get away with it” means allowing her to continue jumping on the couch. Drawing her in towards you doesn’t condone her misbehavior. Instead, you’re giving her what she needs—you.
It’s not pleasant to swallow your frustration and extend your arms out to your child. She doesn’t deserve it, your mind might say.
But even when they’re grumpy, frustrating, annoying and downright crazy, make yourself available. You’re sending the message that you love her both when she’s happy, and when she’s a pain in the neck. Set limits, but one of those shouldn’t be that she can’t come to you.
Once she’s calm and listening, you might want to acknowledge how she feels, and why. “It doesn’t feel good when I tell you what not to do, does it?” you can tell her as you hold her in an embrace. “You can be sad with me.” Let her vent—don’t punish her for the emotions she feels, even if it’s unpleasant for you.
Most of the time, simple comfort measures are all it takes to calm her down and ease her from the edges of a tantrum. Hold her hand, show empathy, rub her back. But sometimes, even that doesn’t work.
Let’s say she pushes you away. She’s screaming. There’s no way to get a word in.
If she lets you, continue to rub her back or be nearby. If she doesn’t want you to hold her, then step away and let her know you’re here when she’s ready. And if she’s thrashing about, likely to hurt someone or break something, hold her in a bear hug.
Meanwhile, it’s important to stay calm. The more agitated we are, the worse they spiral down. It’s so easy to react and respond with anger at your kids when they’re driving your nuts. But here’s the thing: you need to hold your ground.
The number one reason we can’t succumb to our kids’ tantrums is that the tantrums scare them. If they can unnerve even you, if their own parents can’t help them through their tantrums, then who will?
Besides, staying calm is more effective than yelling. Think about the last time you yelled versus when you stayed calm. My guess is that however difficult it was to keep the anger controlled, your child’s tantrum probably ended a whole lot faster than when you yelled.
You’re not encouraging misbehavior by staying calm or giving them a time-in. Or when you let them cool off while you stay nearby. They won’t jump on the couch the next day thinking, “Well, mom hugged me yesterday when I jumped on the couch. So I’m going to do it again today.”
So long as you give them attention when they behave, they won’t equate misbehavior as the only way to get it.
Tantrums are by far one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. You’re dealing with a child who doesn’t act with the same social conduct you’re used to.
Prevent tantrums in the first place. Take care of yourself, your home and relationships so you’re able to give your child 100% of yourself.
Use the four-step process of addressing your misbehaving child: Honor the impulse, say the rule, give the reason, and redirect.
And if a tantrum is inevitable, remain calm. Take a time out for yourself. But don’t banish your child away, no matter how inappropriate her misbehavior. Instead, be there for her. Later, explain how her actions affected others and how she can express her frustration.
And if you can’t get a word in, let her know you’re nearby when she’s ready. Hold her close in a bear hug if need be, such as if she’s about to hurt herself, others, or damage things.
Years from now, you’ll look back on these days wondering how the heck you got through them. The tantrums will have dwindled down, and you’re better able to communicate and understand one another.
In the meantime, hang in there. Help your child manage her tantrums and outbursts while staying calm yourself.
Get more tips on how to handle your child’s tantrums:
- Your Cheat Sheet Guide to Handling Tantrums
- THIS Is Why Your Child Is Testing You
- Why You Shouldn’t Tell Your Child to Stop Crying
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
- Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child
Your turn: What is your solution to tantrums? How do you normally handle tantrums? Let me know in the comments!