Today I’m talking about tantrums – how to have fewer of them, how to reduce their magnitude and help your child be happier. Because, if they’re having tantrums, it’s not much fun for anyone in the family.
When my son was about 10 or 11, one weekend, I’d promised him that we would watch a Harry Potter film at the end of the day.
However, it got late. And I thought, “Oh, it’s going to be too late now to watch a great long film,” and so I said, “I’m sorry, but we’re not going to be able to watch it…”
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Well, then there was a whopper of a tantrum! He was pummelling every surface available. He went bright red. He was raging and slamming doors.
First of all, I thought I’d weather it. But then I realised that actually, I’d messed up – I’d said we’d do something and then backtracked – and it really wasn’t fair.
And so I just decided to change my mind. And we watched the film.
I still feel okay about that decision, and I’m putting it here, upfront, not to say this is the best way to solve tantrums, because clearly it isn’t – that would be a recipe for disaster if it was our response every time – but just to say that occasionally, I think it’s okay to get it wrong, backtrack, and apologise.
So, having said that, what is the most important thing to do if you’re experiencing a lot of tantrums? Or even if you’re just experiencing a few tantrums, because I believe they’re not really necessary.
The most important thing is to start being really observant of our children, and curious about why this is happening.
Because, if you’ve been watching my videos or reading my blogs, you’ll know that I frequently say, “There’s always a reason for behaviour.” So, there’s always a reason for a tantrum.
Well then – why is it happening?
If you start observing, being reflective – and you may already be doing this – you can see certain patterns emerge, such as, for example, tantrums occurring if you don’t get out of the house by a certain time. Or perhaps children are bringing tension home from school. The question is, how do you help them with that?
Or it might simply be a blood sugar low. Or it could be a connection deficit, and sometimes those two can go hand in hand. With small children, popping them on your knee and having a little snack together can be a really wonderful reset.
That’s a brief overview of how to start thinking about this issue – getting curious, and then asking yourself how you can help them. And now I’m going to give you four go-to approaches that tend to help in many cases of tantrums.
#1 – Slow down and be more present.
Let’s use the example of an off-to-school morning, as we’ve got those happening all over again now in the UK.
These can get quite fraught and tense. And one of the reasons is that we’ve often got a lot of things to do and we’re in quite a rush, and when we’re in a rush, that puts children on edge because they can’t really connect with us when we’re like that. It puts them already on the backfoot.
Just slowing down – having eye contact, being there for them – before going off and doing other stuff, helps a lot.
There was a lovely epiphany moment from a father I worked with who was frustrated with the way off to school mornings were going. There were frequent tantrums. One exasperating obstacle was that is daughter wouldn’t put on her tights, despite many reminders. And I said to him, “Just slow down and help her with it.”
It was like the scales fell from his eyes. It was so simple. And sometimes it really is just about being more present, more available for connection in order to avert a tantrum.
Easier said than done, especially when we’ve got more than one child and a lot of other things to organise. So, sometimes, preparing in advance can help as well, just so that you can do that slowing-down-being-more-present thing.
#2 – Keep your children informed
And here I come with another parenting fail, because I massively didn’t do this on one occasion.
When my son was about four, we went to London and I was going off for a day’s training, but we didn’t tell him until we got to the tube station where we had to part ways. He was going off with my husband for the day. I remember the look on his face of complete betrayal, horror and shock when I said goodbye. I really don’t know what I was thinking. I mean, I feel embarrassed to share that. But obviously, at that time, I didn’t understand enough about a child’s need to prepare for things.
Often, we don’t want to tell them, or just think it’s not necessary. But partly, we don’t want to deal with the backlash. We don’t want the protests or the disappointment, or all the emotion that’s going to come up when we share the thing that’s not going to be popular.
But it’s really important to understand that by not telling them, we may break their trust – it can make children very tense and hyper-vigilant, because then they’re looking out for when the next shocking thing is going to happen. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
If we tell them what’s coming up, we get the discomfort of them expressing their feelings. But that’s actually good – they get time to express their feelings, and to prepare. I really recommend this approach to help children be more settled and to help you have fewer tantrums to deal with.
#3 – Listen to your child’s point of view
When they don’t like something, it really helps when we give what they have to express around that real time to be expressed, and that we show we’ve heard by repeating back to them what they’ve said to us.
Why does a child have a tantrum? Because they’re protesting about something they don’t like, right?
If you can create a culture in your family of listening to their protests in another way, that gives them another avenue to express themselves.
One cause of tantrums might be that they don’t feel able to express themselves in this more moderate, more simple way of saying, “I don’t want to do that,” or whatever it is in that moment.
Developing a culture of really listening can help a lot and does really change things quite rapidly. If you’re in the situation where you’ve got tantrums going from nought to 100 in the space of a split second, this is a really important thing for you to look at.
#4 – Be collaborative
If there are things your child doesn’t want to do, try to avoid forcing them. I know that there’ll be some occasions where you may feel you have to, but if you try other avenues first, these occasions will be reduced to very few.
Other avenues include problem-solving with your child about how to make what you need them to do more comfortable or easier for them. Make suggestions.
Often, when children are more included or given some control over a situation, that helps them connect with it, even if it isn’t their favourite thing. This kind of conversation can remove the need to have a tantrum over getting into the car seat, for example.
If you can relate to these four approaches to supporting your child and helping to prevent tantrums, look out for my five day Reset Your Relationship with Your Child challenge coming up soon. Last time, parents had really significant ‘Aha’ moments and saw significant change in their children’s behaviour over the course of the week.
So look out for more news about that!
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