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Temper Tantrums: The Lowdown on the Meltdown

temper tantrum

Guest Writer: J. Decker, LPCC

You can hear in the grocery store a few rows down, the wail of “I want that” or  a piercing  “Noooo.”  You may even hear a caregiver trying to stave off the incoming melt down with appeasements or admonitions such as “don’t touch that” or “maybe later you can have that toy.” This blog will address how to prevent and de-escalate a temper tantrum that is in process.

Much can be said about prevention of tantrums but if you are not there yet, lets first talk about what to do if your little one is in the midst of a melt down. According to Dr. Sears in his book entitled “The Discipline Book” some children are more prone to temper tantrums and this section of the blog will be in homage to those nerve spent caregivers.

If you suspect you have a meltdown prone child or a child who is in the midst of a tantrum here are few suggestions to use while the madness is ensuing:

1. Stay close to the child, but do not engage with them (as in fight back, reason with or try and correct the situation while it is happening).

2. If the child’s voice gets loud, you become quieter with the intention of holding the space for your child to express themselves.

3. Wait it out, do not try and stop the momentum of the tantrum for your benefit.

 4. Validate the frustration your child is feeling by using feelings words with the child such as “I see you are angry.”

 5. Allow your child to experience a range of emotions without getting upset yourself, remember you are the sane model for your child to return to.

For prevention purposes preparing yourself and your child for the possibility of tantrums (especially in public place) will help dramatically reduce frequency and duration of the melt downs. A few items to bear in mind while preparing for the onslaught: Children pick up on adult stress and respond with the same level of angst if not higher. So get calm caregivers and be the stable base your child needs explore their range of emotions. Please note that children are learning coping skills and need help, guidance, and constant nurturance (look for an upcoming blog about nurturance) to hone their skills. Here are a few prevention tips that might help your child; I encourage you to add to this list items that are unique to your child:

1. Make sure your child is well-rested before taking them on an outing (look here for some tips on sleep hygiene).

2.  A well-fed child is a happy child, bring snacks wherever you go to avoid the hangries.

3. Pre stock, if you are going to a store and think the child will get a case of the “ I wants” have tiny items (the child has never seen) in your pocket to offer them.

4. Set your expectations for behavior prior to entering a tantrum inducting environment, offer encouragement and positive feedback throughout endeavour.

5. Be consistent with your expectations and positive feedback.

If all else fails, remember that children – just like adults – like to please others and love to have their feelings validated. We all have bad days and we all act crazy sometimes, so do little people, cut them some slack and help them move on with their day. Building a trusting relationship with your children may start with you and your relationship with their emotions.

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