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.
Does it feel like your child seems disagreeable nearly all the time, crying and throwing a tantrum every day? Her emotional dial is set to extreme, with every response an outburst. Once in a while she’ll comply, but on most days, she’s defiant and rude.
You try to have fun by taking the family to a restaurant or buying the kids new toys. But of course, she throws a fit about leaving too soon and gets jealous about her brother’s toy. While everyone else is enjoying themselves and feeling grateful, she can’t seem to be happy about anything.
And when you compare her to her siblings, you can’t help but notice the stark difference between their personalities.
In short, she’s the one person in the family with the power to ruin everyone’s day.
When your child ruins everyone’s day
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. We’d be eating breakfast without one of the kids, and you suddenly realize how peaceful everything flows.
And you think, So THIS is how peaceful it can be.
If you can relate, don’t worry. For one thing, this isn’t forever—below, I’ll share several mindset and tactical changes you can make to turn things around.
Feeling frustrated is also normal, even at just one child. Everyone has a different temperament, which doesn’t mean you love her any less than your other kids. You simply need to find new ways to meet her needs and provide her with boundaries.
1. Show empathy and acknowledge your child’s emotions
The first step in being on the same side? Show empathy for your child’s emotions. Don’t launch into a lecture or bend to her every demand. Instead, start with acknowledging what she’s feeling and how difficult it must be for her.
If she screams, don’t scream back and tell her to go to her room—and don’t even try to 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? She realizes that her behavior hasn’t scared you off. That you’ll love her no matter what, screaming and everything.
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2. 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 he behaves. These arguments feel like a battle between the two of you.
But instead of resenting his behavior, look at the screaming and sulking as a cry for help.
He needs you, especially in this moment. As frustrating as he may be, he still needs you to be the calm and reasonable person between the two of you. When he’s upset, he’s afraid…
- You’ll reject him for feeling or acting in negative ways.
- His emotions are so strong even you can’t stop them.
- He’s a bad person.
No matter how defiant he’s behaving, he needs your help managing his emotions.
You won’t always get this right, and you’ll still get frustrated from time to time (I know I do). Still, think of the both of you as being on the same side. Imagine you’re the teacher and he the student, both hoping he’ll learn the tools to behave.
3. Put your foot down
Children need limits. They can explore and express themselves, but only within safe boundaries. As ironic as it may seem, your child actually craves limits as a way to define how to behave and what to expect.
So put your foot down, kindly but firmly. Let him know what is and isn’t allowed, and the consequences if he doesn’t fulfill his responsibilities.
And don’t take the “because I said so” tone. Instead, explain the rules and consequences as a teacher would—in a matter of fact way. Your goal is to help him manage his emotions and behave in a better way, not win every battle.
4. Teach your child to express himself
Sometimes we send the message that certain emotions are wrong. We tell kids to go to their room when they’re throwing a tantrum and scold them to stop crying. We refuse to hug them when they just misbehaved.
But withholding affection doesn’t keep your child from misbehaving further. It only sends the message that your love depends on his behavior.
Instead, explain that his emotions are normal, but that he needs to express them better. The best way to teach appropriate behavior is to model it yourself and behave in a way you’d want him to behave.
Then, tell him how he can better express his frustration. A few suggestions:
- Label his emotions so he knows what these feelings mean. Instead of yelling, he can say, “I’m mad!”
- Suggest he hold a comfort item like a favorite toy. He knows he can grab his favorite teddy bear when he feels upset. One of my kids will run to his favorite stuffed animal for comfort any time he’s upset.
- If he feels overwhelmed, he can find a quiet space or go to his 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 him more appropriate ways to speak. If he’s rude to a sibling, tell him, “You can say, ‘I don’t like how you did that’ instead of yelling.”
Rather than jumping on his behavior, show him how to communicate in appropriate ways. This takes a lot of reminding, but as he grows, he’ll remember how to express himself without getting too upset.
Unlike other relationships in our lives like our friends and partners, we don’t choose our kids. We’re expected to love and care for them regardless of how smoothly their personalities mesh with our own.
So when our kids have a difficult temperament, it’s not always easy to enjoy spending time with them. Maybe you have that one trying child who ruins everyone’s day, and it’s tempting to blame her for a bad parenting day or resent her for behaving the way she does.
Instead, think of yourself as being on the same side, guiding her to behave better. 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 her, one where an outburst won’t ruin everyone’s day, but can become a teachable moment for the 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
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