Toddler tantrums might involve crying, screaming, hitting, even biting. But how about elementary age kids? Mostly the crying and screaming part, maybe add in calling us bad names. When kids get to middle and high school they should be mature enough not to melt down, right? Wrong! They are just as likely to fall apart as a two year old, we just can't pick them up and haul them out of the store and, thank goodness, they do tend to do it at home, not in public. Whew!
The real problem isn't that our kids are losing control, its that they make US lose control too! Oh my... now that's a problem, right? Those emotional bombs that they lob our way hit us hard! What can we do to keep calm and loving in the midst of such trials in our parenthood?
#1 - Remember tantrums are not about us!
Yep, the tantrum is your child's inability to process and deal with disappointment, lack of control or maybe some fear they are having. It's THEIR tantrum, let them have it. Their emotions need to be let out somehow, be the adult, don't react. Keep in mind that your kid, no matter their age, doesn't have the adult skills to hold in their emotions so don't take offense.
#2 - Go BRAIN DEAD!
Ah ha! You need to STOP talking, STOP advising, STOP yelling and STOP getting mad at them for being out of control. You stay in control by zipping your lips. Don't say anything, especially if you are feeling emotional. If they start yelling and wanting to get you all upset by saying mean things, feel free to use "brain dead" phrases like:
- I knowwwwwww....
- That's a bummer....
#3 - Give EMPATHY
Even though it's hard to do, your kids really need love during a tantrum and empathy helps deliver that. Sometimes you'll need to wait for some of the emotion to die down so your child can hear your empathy, be patient. You can use empathetic phrases like:
- I'm so sorry that your friend hurt your feelings. I can tell it really upsets you.
- I know you want your dessert right now but we have to have dinner first.
- It's so sad when your sister yelled out all the answers to the game we were playing. That doesn't seem fair, does it?
- I'm so sorry that your team lost the tournament. I know you worked really hard.
- It must be really frustrating to do all that work on your assignment and not get the grade on it that you expected.
#4 - Problem Solve
When the main part of the tantrum has passed away, which might be an hour but it could be days later, calmly revisit the situation. The idea is to see if you can help your child come up with a solution to avoid the trauma the next time when a similar situation arises. It is super healthy to model this type of problem solving! There are several steps to problem solving but one of the main ones is to ASK your child if they'd like to hear some ideas. Sometimes your child will say no, don't push. Keep waiting until the right moment of calm comes into your lives. In my talks that I give I call this "seize the moment" where you take the spotlight off them, create a fun diversion so they let their guard down and then it opens up their hearts and minds to talk about what is hurting them.
- If feelings were hurt you can brainstorm about what your child's reaction might be next time.
- If something unexpected like not getting dessert happens you chat about realistic expectations for family food times.
- If poor sportsmanship happens help your child come up with ideas of how to handle rule-breakers in the future.
- If your child loses either academically or athletically, talk about healthy ways to handle those emotions.