How Do You Stop a Tantrum?
“How do you stop a tantrum?” I feel like Google probably responds to this question a million times a day. As a counselor who often works with children, working on behavioral and emotional regulation is often the number one goal of treatment. It is not uncommon for me to spend 8 hours at the office helping parents and children learn coping and parenting strategies to reduce and eliminate tantrums in the home, only to come home and do the same thing in my own home! I was taught in graduate school, but learned through parenthood, that some children are more prone to emotional regulation difficulties. You can call it “strong willed,” “defiant,” “full of spirit,” “determined,” or whatever you want to call it; the fact is, some children are harder to discipline than others. I know this because I have 2 children. A son who has had emotional regulation difficulties since he was 9 months old and a 2-and a half year old daughter who just wants to please all day long. I did not create either personality through parenting, instead they were simply born with their personality! Because of these long days of stopping various meltdowns, I learned a few tricks of the trade to help calm a meltdown.
The first thing to do is model calmness. Yep, I know that is probably the hardest thing to do when your child is yelling, being disrespectful, or doing any other oppositional behavior you can think. However, realize that for many children, a tantrum is more than a tantrum; it is a meltdown. A meltdown means that your child has lost control of their emotions. Try to go down on their level, talk softly, and validate what they are feeling. My favorite quote is “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.”
Remembering the quote above, can keep sanity when you feel your own anger boiling. Remember your child has so many “big emotions” that they are desperately trying to show you how they feel. Instead of minimizing what they are going through, try to validate. Things like “you are feeling really angry and disappointed that it is bedtime and you have to stop watching television; however, it is now time to go to bed” goes a long way compared to “It is time to go straight to bed.” Your child will instantly hear that you understand what they are feeling. You can also try to give your child more control in their world. Give them choices “You really want to continue to watch television, but it is time to go to bed. If you can go to bed on your own, you can have 15 more minutes tomorrow. If you choose to have a tantrum, we will be unable to give the extra television time. It is your choice.” Children respond to positive reinforcement. This statement is not a bribe, and it is not a punishment. Instead it is giving the child a choice to earn a desired privilege if they are able to regulate their behaviors.
Create a safe place for your child to calm down. This is not a time-out, or the corner of a room. This is a place that has items that help calm your child down. It can be a chair, or a tent in the corner of a room. Talk to your child about things that help them calm down. Some suggestions would be paper to tear up, a punching bag, coloring books to color, fidget spinners, sticker books, or play dough. Instead of yelling at your child to go to their calm down spot, let them know if they can go to their calm down spot, and come talk about it when their body is calm, they can earn a small privilege. This is teaching coping skills that can go a long way. It is also teaching a valuable lesson- we cannot have a healthy and productive conversation with someone when we are angry. Even as adults, we need to calm down before we can work out the problem.
Lastly, meltdowns are great opportunities to learn from. When things are calm, have your child talk about what they were thinking, feeling, and doing during the meltdown. This is a great way to learn more about your child’s emotions and to also teach that their thoughts can control their emotions. Have them come up with three ways they could have made the situation better. If they struggle you can help guide them by teaching deep breathing through slowly blowing bubbles or blowing out candles, teaching them to size up the problem (small, medium, or huge problem), or even to ask for a “time-in” to have a hug.
Good luck parents! We all say it because it is true, parenting is the toughest job in the world. The best thing you can do during a tantrum is model unconditional love, how to be the calm in the storm, and how to make different choices next time. You’ve got this, parents! And if you need a little bit of support along the way give us a call. This is kind of our thing!
Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S
Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting www.heightsfamilycounseling.com and read more about her services http://heightsfamilycounseling.com/services-1/