Taming Tantrums : Managing Emotions
Updated: Oct 19
I'm going to start by saying, I'm coming from a perspective of a mom, and a child development professional who has been in the field for over fifteen years. The following are thoughts and philosophies that I have collected and use in my home. However, I am PRO-PARENT! You know your child. You know yourself. The goal at the end of the day is to keep bodies safe and hearts kind. Do what is best for your family. A screaming, angry, tear-fest child is probably the quickest way to make an adult loose it. Loud volumes, barbaric behavior, egos and pride, and some sleep deprivation make for a power explosion when combined.
It can feel like a "Rocket Blast Off" gone wrong. And now you are an astronaut in space with no helmet and no power spinning out of control - no oxygen, no gravity grounding, no guidance, utter chaos. This is the feeling for both child and parent.
This is a very exhausting season.
But this is also a very important season. You are wiring your child's brain in a way that will set him/her up for how they manage emotions the rest of their lives. Children do not know how to regulate their emotions. I repeat. CHILDREN DO NOT KNOW HOW TO REGULATE EMOTIONS. That means, when big feeling come up they don't know what to do with them. (Main 5 Big Feelings are : anger, sadness, disgust, fear, and joy)
Sticking with the space theme : Right now, if you handed Oliver the planets and told him to put them in order of the solar system, he wouldn't know how to do that. He doesn't even know what planets are. But one day, with help and teaching he'll be able to do that. In a similar way, it’s foolish of us to expect a child to behave calmly instantly when their sibling takes that toy from them and they are suddenly filled with a foreign feeling called anger.
When emotions come up, children don't know what to do with them.They are a weird feeling that they can't control. Their body kicks their brain out of the cockpit, and takes over and it's scary. We must teach them
1. WHAT emotions are
2. HOW to handle them properly
So yes, it is exhausting. Yes their tantrums trigger tantrums for us. But this is IMPORTANT work we are doing. We must stay calm so that we can help them stay calm. The skills you are teaching now will determine: - How your son treats his future wife one day.
- How your daughter will stand strong in trauma.
And so forth and so on.
I know inspiration stuff is complete bologna when you are knee deep in tears, but you must know, in the long run, this may be one of the most important life skills you teach them. How to manage their emotions.
Basically when these emotions show up, you have two options: 1. Learn to lead with your body - Mayday! Out-of-control emotional living. (Throwing food in disgust. Hitting siblings in anger. Running into the street with excitement, Saying mean words in fear, or crying big tears when "no" is given. These are examples. I'm sure you can think of some more examples)
2. Learn to lead with your brain - Successful mission! Self-Control steady living.
Verbalizing "I'm mad" "I did not like that." "I am happy!" and being able to calm themselves down. ***They will still be mad or sad, but THEY will control their body. Through practice, this will bring great benefit to their mental well-being.
Toddlers who throw tantrums, become teens who have attitudes, and adults who have unhealthy emotional "escapes".
Spoiler - Yelling " SHUT UP" or "STOP IT" does not lead to path two. It may stop the tantrum, but it does not give the life-skills they need to fly solo one day. We must teach them how to process and manage their emotions. This skill could very possibly save friendships, prevent being fired, eliminate a possible divorce, or even save their life. Again I say THIS IS IMPORTANT WORK. Emotions are powerful things. We can not just bottle or bury... they are much too potent. They will explode, which is why WHERE we place them is so vital. We must learn to harness them well like fuel in a rocket to help us go farther and explore new places in our life.
In Action -
Here's what I'm teaching my children (and myself) in how to handle "Big Emotions". It's my encouragement to me and you too.
Enter Tantrum Sparking Moment. BOOM. And we're off..... 1. Hand on Heart.
[Give time and tools to calm our body and empathize]
Deep breaths, hugs, or sitting down is helpful.
2. Hand to the side in “What Happened“ posture.
[Say it out loud]
Explain what you see. Give them a chance to “place their emotions” into words.
3. Hand in Hand.
[Set the boundary]
What do you need to do or explain to keep them safe.
4. Open Hands .
[Give choices as a solutions] Translation out of the tantrum by giving an example of how to move out of this feeling.
****We also love using Daniel Tiger's mad song. It's a similar concept to this flow but easier to remember.
Real Life Example Oliver finishes the last of his snack. He asks for more. Mom says no because she already told him when this snack is all done there will be no more. Oliver outbursts in tear and crumbles to the floor.
1. Mom enters in with a hug at eye level in calm tone.
"I’m sorry Bub. I know you really love blueberries Let’s take some deep breaths together.“
2. Mom interviews and commentates.
“Oliver can you tell me what happened?"
(Oliver is still learning emotions and vocabulary so he blubbers "Blueberries" through tears which is a win!) I continue..
"Your tears on your face show me that you are sad. Are you upset because you like blueberries and you want to eat more? It's okay to be sad.“
3. Mom grabs Oliver's hand to help him listen.
"But Oliver, Mama has to take the blueberries away because I don't want your tummy to hurt from too many. It's my job to keep you safe. Do you understand?“
4.Mom shifts the focus to a solution out of the tantrum moment.
“Let's build a tower with blocks and if you are still hungry after that we can find something else for our tummy.“
As you model staying calm and walk them through the process, through time they will do this solo and less scripted.
Its inportant when they are in “tantrum mode” you don’t lecture or explain. You just calm them down.
Once calm you can start walking through what happened and why they felt that way.
Bonus round : What if I am not calm as the adult?
If you snap, simply use it as an attention-getter and model calming down for them before moving on. Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING good will come out of both parent and kid loosing it.
“OLIVER DAVID! STOP!” (I realize I need to stop. So I quickly stop my words, take a breath, then in a calm tone continue).
What if the tantrum is out of control anger, hitting, kicking and I can't control it?
Do your part to keep him/her physically safe. Remove items of danger, let them kick and throw a fit on the floor until they calm down. THEN start talking. This is not the time to explain or ration. Your only job it to keep them physically safe. (ie - prevent :punching a wall or sibling, having access to toys to throw, locking the door so they can't run into the street.
This explains what happens in the brain in a tantrum and how we should calm down first.
Is there ever a point when I just say, "Ok, stop the crying, you're too old for this."?
In my opinion. Yes. You as a parent know when they have the skills and practice to be able to control themselves enough. But the phrasing can sound like "Addy, you are in control of your body. Take a deep breath and it's time to do." or whatever the situation is. The goal is to remind them that THEY are at the steering wheel. Remember brain over body. We tell our body what to do, not the other way around. That keeps us safe and kind.
This is a very big topic with lots to explore but hopefully you’ll walk away with a little more patience and assurance in knowing it takes practice.
Im happy to help you with other questions that arise. Find me on social media at @abbycirkles
Hard Work is Good Work, Abby *Don't forget... The Cirkles are cheering you on!