When a child is having a tantrum, is it really our job as a parent to physically stop that tantrum or punish a child for having one? I say no. Our job is to acknowledge the tantruming child’s upset, to give them words for feelings they may not have experienced before (or just don’t know how to express), to help guide their anger or frustration or extra energy in a productive way, and to keep them and those around them safe in the process. But those emotions - expressed as a temper tantrum - they BELONG to your child, not to you. You aren’t responsible for your child’s feelings, and It isn’t your job to stop them emoting. You are responsible for keeping them safe, but curtailing or punishing expression of emotion isn’t healthy in the short or long term!
A tantrum is an expulsion of energy and emotion from a child who doesn’t yet have a full understanding of the range of human emotions, nor the knowledge or control to express them in a reasonable manner. Sometimes a tantrum comes from a child wanting to say something, but not having the right words. Sometimes they are overstimulated. Sometimes, they’re just plain tired. Kids are NEW to all of these things - excitement, fear, large groups of people, boredom, jealousy, anger, frustration, feeling super tired but not being in their bed… and the list goes on. Children are new to the WORLD! They are still learning - everything.
Of course, tantrums aren’t fun. And they usually aren’t convenient. But they are normal, and can be awesome learning experiences! Here are some ideas to help you help your child navigate a tantrum:
1) Practice patience. Both for yourself, and for your child. Seeing you calm in the midst of her storm is an awesome lesson to be teaching. Remember no tantrum lasts forever; this storm will pass - so it’s really okay to allow your child room and to express themselves. As long as they aren’t in danger of being hurt, or hurting someone else, there’s no harm in kicking the floor for a bit. If it’s upsetting to you, give yourself some space. If you’re worried about your child getting hurt, gently move them to a safer spot, or if they’re bigger, suggest they move themselves (this is something that’s great to be talked about ahead of time - when things are calm - choosing a “calming spot” or a place that’s okay to kick around in).
2) Acknowledge their feelings. Let them know you understand through your words & actions (and in doing so, you’re giving them words to describe how they feel) by describing what you see:
I see you are upset because I didn’t let you have a cookie.
I can tell you’re really frustrated because the game didn’t end up the way you wanted.
I know you’re not feeling great right now because your friend can’t come play.
I hear you are really angry because I changed my mind about our plans.
3) Empathize. When you’re not feeling good, it helps to know you’re not alone. Let your child know you’ve been there:
I know how it feels to be mad; I get mad sometimes too.
It isn’t fun when we have to stop playing; I don’t like to be interrupted either.
It stinks to feel left out.
4) Accept them. Let them know it’s okay, emotions are normal, and that no matter what happens, you love them:
It’s okay to feel bad sometimes, and it won’t last forever.
It’s alright that you’re upset, that’s normal to feel that way when something happens that you don’t like.
It’s okay to get angry at me, I love you even when you’re angry.
5) Wait. You DON’T have to teach anything in the middle of a tantrum. You can wait it out. Once the storm has passed… THEN you can talk about what happened. Or, you can leave it. Sometimes a kid just needs a release, and moving on can be in everyone’s best interest. A hug, a high five, or a pat on the back, then continuing with your day may be just what’s needed. Another time, apart from the emotional event might be a better point to discuss what to do next time.
If and when you do choose to talk about the tantrum, here are some ideas:
1) Remember the good stuff. Don’t hang on to the bad feelings or even the why’s of what happened, instead, bring up what they did right. If your child used words you’ve been working on, praise them for that, if they took themselves to their quiet area without being reminded, let them know you appreciated that:
I heard you say that you were really frustrated. Thank you so much for using those words, I really understood what you were feeling!
I noticed that when you were so angry, you went up to your room. I bet you felt proud to recognize your feelings and choose to move yourself to your calming spot.
I saw you kicked your pillow instead of your sister. That was really good self control, thank you for not hurting anyone.
2) Suggest alternatives. If your child tends to be destructive during a tantrum - throwing or breaking things or kicking, think about some things that they could physically do that would be OKAY with you, like (suggesting SOFT stuff ahead of time may help direct their behaviors towards those things):
Hitting a pillow or punching a punching bag
Lying on the bed or couch & kicking
Tossing/kicking stuffed animals into a laundry basket
3) Talk about prevention. It’s amazing to see a child recognize they are getting angry or upset, and refocus their energy BEFORE they have a tantrum. It is possible! Giving your kids some ideas for getting their feelings out without hurting themselves, others, or damaging things around them. Let them know those feelings are real, but they will pass, particularly if they are able to focus them onto something else. Some ideas:
Building a fort with pillows and blankets
Rolling, pounding, sculpting clay or playdoh
Drawing - can be about how they feel or not - just the action of drawing can help
Weaving potholders or rainbow loom rubber band bracelets
Stacking blocks or building legos
Acting out how they feel or what happened to make them feel angry/sad with dolls/Barbies
Meditating or reading
When we are tired as adults, we take ourselves to a place we can rest. We we are frustrated or angry, we say so. When we’re overstimulated, we say goodnight, and leave the party. ;) We’ve had years and years of practice at recognizing how we feel, and learning how to curb it, act on it productively, or express it without hurting others or ourselves - emotionally or physically (and sometimes, we even fail). Your kids are new at all of this. Give them the tools to succeed and... give them time to figure it out. Work with them to find solutions, and things will get easier.