What to do when your child ruins everyone’s day with tantrums and outbursts? Learn how to turn a bad day around and embrace your child’s temperament.
An SSBE reader wrote how her daughter seemed disagreeable nearly all the time, crying and screaming every day. Her emotional dial was set to extreme, with every response an outburst. Once in a while she complied, but on most days, she was defiant and rude.
It can be frustrating when one person in the family seems to have the power to ruin everyone’s day.
After all, we entered parenthood with thoughts of snuggles and warmth. Instead, each day can feel like an epic battle. And it can affect how parents feel toward their kids.
I know I’ve had days where I felt exasperated by the “switch” just one child can turn on. An outburst, a tantrum—and the whole day is ruined.
When your child ruins everyone’s day
If you can relate, don’t worry. You’re not stuck resenting your child when you practice these mindset changes:
Be on the same side
The screaming, the standoffs, the sulking. No wonder it’s hard to enjoy your child’s company when that’s how she behaves.
So, the first thing to change? How you see your role in these interactions. These arguments feel like a two-sided battle between the two of you. But instead, look at her screaming and sulking as a cry for help.
Your child needs you. As frustrating as she may be acting, she still needs you to be the calm and reasonable adult. When she’s upset, she’s afraid:
- You’ll reject her for feeling or acting in negative ways
- Her emotions are so strong even her parents can’t stop them
- She’s a bad person
No matter how defiant she’s behaving, she needs your help managing her emotions.
You won’t always get this right. Just today, I got frustrated with my three-year-old because he didn’t want to get out of the house.
Still, think of you and your child as being on the same side. Imagine you’re the teacher and she the student, both hoping she’ll learn the tools to behave. You’re not two sides of an epic and ongoing battle.
Show empathy and acknowledge her emotions
The first step in being on the same side? Show empathy for her emotions. Don’t launch into a lecture or bend to her every demand. Start with saying what she’s feeling and how difficult it must be.
If she screams, don’t scream right back, tell her to go to her room or even appease her. Instead, acknowledge her frustration. You might say, “You seem mad. I would feel mad too if we had to leave right when I was having fun.”
You’ll likely notice a shift in her behavior. She may have been gearing up for another argument, but instead, she’ll soften, surprised to feel heard. She’ll feel safe in your calmness instead of spiraling down into more misbehavior.
The best reassurance for her? That her behavior hasn’t scared you off. That you’ll love her no matter what, screaming and everything.
Put your foot down
Children need limits. They can explore and express themselves, but only within safe boundaries. As ironic as it may seem, they actually crave limits as a way to define how to behave and what to expect.
So put your foot down, kindly but firmly. Let her know what is and isn’t allowed, and the consequences if she doesn’t follow.
And don’t assume the “because I said so” tone. Instead, explain the rules and consequences as a teacher would—as a matter of fact. Your goal is to help her manage her emotions and behave in a better way, not win any battles.
Teach her to express herself
Sometimes we send the message that certain emotions are wrong. We tell them to go to their room when they’re throwing a tantrum. We scold them to stop crying. Or we refuse to hug them when they just misbehaved.
Withholding affection doesn’t keep a child from misbehaving further. It only sends the message that our love depends on their behavior.
Instead, explain that her emotions are normal, but that she needs to express them better. The best way to teach appropriate behavior is to model it yourself. This goes back to the first step about being on the same side. Behave in a way you want your child to behave.
Then, tell her how she can better express her frustration. A few suggestions:
- Label her emotions so she knows what these feelings mean. Instead of yelling, she can say, “I’m mad!”
- Suggest she hold a comfort item like a favorite toy. She knows she can grab her favorite teddy bear when she feels upset. One of my kids will run to his frog lovey (affiliate link) for comfort any time he’s upset.
- If she feels overwhelmed, she can find a quiet corner or go to her room for alone time. Some kids benefit from solitude when they feel upset. Another one of my kids knows to go to his room when the rest of the house feels loud and overwhelming.
- Show her more appropriate ways to speak. If she’s rude to a sibling, tell her, “You can say, ‘I don’t like how you did that’ instead of yelling.”
Rather than jumping on her behavior, show her how to communicate in appropriate ways. This takes a lot of reminding, but as she grows, she’ll remember the proper ways to express herself.
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Unlike other relationships in our lives—friends, partners—we don’t choose our kids. We’re expected to love and care for them regardless of how well their personalities mesh with our own.
So when our kids have a difficult temperament, it’s not always easy to enjoy them. Maybe you have that one trying child who ruins everyone’s day for the whole family. It’s tempting to blame them for a bad day or resent them for behaving the way they do.
Instead, switch your mindset. Think of yourselves as being on the same side, guiding your child to better behavior. Acknowledge her emotions to avoid epic battles and make her feel heard. Put your foot down to give her the guidance and boundaries she craves. And show her appropriate ways to communicate her frustrations.
You can have a positive relationship with your child. One where an outburst won’t ruin everyone’s day, but can become a teachable moment for both of you.
Get more tips:
- The Biggest Reason Parents Should Stand Their Ground
- “He Needs You”: How to Help Your Angry Child
- Why Time Outs Don’t Work (And What to Do Instead)
- What to Do when Your Child Disrespects You
- On Accepting Your Children for Who They Are
Tell me in the comments: Have you felt resentful toward your kids for the way they behave? What helps you turn things around when your child ruins everyone’s day?