Treating the Tantrum

The excerpt above is from the end a discussion of managing tantrums – or what to do when the person you are with is 2 and has completely lost their mind.

Child throwing tantrum

First, we have to talk about parental mindset.   It’s hard, but when we see trouble it’s helpful if instead of “Oh, No …” we think “Oh Good – some learning is going to happen!”   Conflict is necessary – and an opportunity to learn.   Frustration and disappointment are part of life – so your kid needs to learn from them, and how to deal with them.

There is not a lot of communication possible when someone is enraged – but connection is still possible.   What is important is to give attention to your child’s feelings and thoughts without needing to change them.  “You wanted another cookie, but I said we can only have one.  You are yelling – you are really upset right now.”

You are not trying to make them feel better, or to make them feel bad for pitching a screamer during grandma’s visit.  You are not trying to make them feel anything.   They are having intense feelings.  You don’t want to deny, punish, or ignore those feelings. You are “reflecting” – going with them on a journey to understand how they feel, and why – so they get better at understanding and managing themselves.   

As explained by the great Becky Bailey, we parents tend to Blame (make them feel bad) or Rescue (make them feel better).  It’s important to support learning, instead.  

It takes time and work to get to the feelings involved, or to even start to find their source.   This means that sometimes you need to call a “time out.”   Not a time out for your kid (none of that “sit on the stairs” stuff) but a time out for the adult – a time out from whatever was going on.   This means recognizing that we might have to abandon the shopping cart, or step away from the birthday party.   “Treating” the tantrum becomes a priority.  

Some people suggest you can touch your tantruming child and say “There you are.”  It isn’t necessary to hug or comfort your child, at first – when they are upset, you want to be a mirror – you want to help them process what happened to them.  Your child needs you to say “I see you, I hear you, and I feel you.”  In a tantrum, take the time to reflect those three back, in that order, without judgement.  “I see you smashing that cup on the floor.   I hear that you really, really wanted one more cookie.   And I feel that you are angry – it doesn’t seem right to you that we’re saving the last cookie for mom when she gets home.”

What about “bad behavior?”   First, when the attack/defend process gets going, communication and connection break down.  Your goal is helping your child learn.   By communicating clearly and setting boundaries, you can help them understand their tantrums, and learn that tantrums are not a good strategy for getting what they want.

This gets to another basic idea we try to support in our kids:   curiosity about what happened to them.  For example, when children fall.  Adults tend to say “Are you okay?” or “Get up – you’re fine” instead of encouraging the child to understand what has just happened her.  We do that by being present and receptive to what they share, or, if necessary, just narrating  –  “you fell.”   Then the kid can put together an understanding, like “My foot hit that thing”, as they build skills in understanding how to get along in the world.

A final word on tantrums.   By using empathy with your child, you model it – how you handle your kid’s upset shows him how to respond to the upset of others.  They’re going to be faced with upset people they care about, and, thanks to you, they’re going to know how to handle it – with supportive curiosity, not judgement.

Recent Posts

Join The Team Of Dads Learning How To Set Their Children Up For Success In Life

Join The Mailing List To Get Support Directly In Your Inbox.