Tantrums are frustrating. You have this little person in your life who is so full of emotions that everything seems to explode all at once. Sometimes they last for a few minutes, others maybe for an hour; either way it feels like forever. Dealing with tantrums is hard, there is no rationalizing, no calming, and bribing rarely works. All you can really do in that moment is ride through the storm. Before that moment, however, is a different story. There are several strategies you can use to help prevent or reduce the intensity and duration of tantrums. Here are my 4 tips for preventing them.
Fill your child’s attention/connection bucket
Everyone in the worlds has a bucket within them. This bucket is where they store their feelings of connection and affection from others. Some people can last for weeks once their bucket is filled while some people have one or many holes, so they have to keep getting it refilled. Kids are no different. They have buckets too.
The most important person in a young child’s life is their parent or caregiver and a small amount of focused attention from that person can fill their bucket quickly, but in the world of increased workloads and responsibilities it gets harder and harder to find time to have one on one moments with your children. If you have more than 1, it can be even more difficult.
I often teach my parents that if they can spend 30-45 minutes a few times a week playing with their child in a very particular way they can greatly improve many facets of their and their child’s life. You can read more about how to be more focused in your play in my blog post on play strategies to teach critical skills. You can find it here: https://ryanallencounseling.com/4-play-strategies-to-teach-your-preschooler-critical-skills/
Even if you don’t use the methods described in that post, spending regular, uninterrupted (no phones, computers) play time with your child may help them better regulate their emotions and learn healthier ways to seek support.
Sometimes parents’ biggest pet peeve is their child constantly interrupting. Whether they are on the phone, talking with another adult, or trying to focus on an email, their child runs in, excitedly screaming about a story they want to tell. The best strategy in this case is to start teaching your child to wait. You can find my specific steps on how to do that here (insert link to blog post on stopping interruptions). I have an entire blog post devoted to interruptions. Here is that link: https://ryanallencounseling.com/parents-guide-to-ending-interrupting-behaviors-for-good/
The tips discussed in that post can apply to preventing tantrums. Kids need to learn how to identify when they are feeling angry and frustrated then what they should do with those emotions. Having regular anger drills where kids practice saying they are angry and practice ways to express and deal with those feelings can make them more prepared when the real thing happens.
Give yourself a break every now and then
I am in the process of writing a series of blog posts on parent self-care which will focus much more on this topic, but parents need to have time to themselves. Many parents feel guilty about needing this break, but I want to reassure you that it is okay to feel that guilt and take the break anyway. The old analogy that many therapists make is the mask on a plane. They always tell parents, if the masks drop down on a plane, make sure to put your mask on first because if you pass out, you won’t be able to help your kid. As tiring of an analogy as this is, it is very true.
Parents who are working a full-time job, getting home and cleaning, preparing food, getting their kid ready for bed (brushing teeth, PJ’s, book, etc.) can feel drained quickly. If you are noticing that you are more irritable, quicker to yell, or just feeling exhausted, do something to take care of yourself. Go to the spa, go watch a PG-13 or R rated movie at the theatre, or just go for a 30-minute walk. Consistently taking care of yourself will mean there is more of you to give your kids.
Change your focus
Right now, you are going to have times when you feel exhausted. You wish they would grow to stages where they are able to take care of themselves better. You want them not to be attached at your hip. I get how draining it can feel at times, yet eventually you will wake up to a teenager. They will have their own moments that make you proud and happy, however they are developmentally going to start pulling away from you and are going to spend more time with their friends, at their summer job, engaging in extra-curricular activities. At those moments, you will wish you had spent more time playing princesses and superheroes. Try to remind yourself that this time is preciously exhausting and will totally be worth it.
*Bonus* What happens after matters most
What we do during the tantrum is not as important as what we do after the tantrum. During the tantrum, it is okay to initially try and intervene and offer comfort, but sometimes they just need to run their course and parents need to step back. They are developmentally appropriate even if they can be maddening.
After the tantrum, however, there are many things we can do. Once their tantrum is over, offer comfort so they know just because they lost their cool for a minute, they have not lost your love. Avoid talking about what is okay and not okay about what they did at this moment, just be with them. Once they have calmed, you can start to talk about what happened and what we can do differently next time.
These two things teach kids that you will be there for them when they are able to calm from their feelings in order to solve problems. That knowledge will help kids to calm quicker in the future.
Being a parent is a hard job. It requires constantly learning and adapting and being regularly pulled in many directions, but it can be the extremely rewarding. Using these strategies can help find more of those positive moments you crave.
I work with many parents who want nothing more than to find ways to have happier moments with their kids but are just feeling overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do. If that sounds like you and you would like some additional support and more personalized strategies, I would love to help. Please call me at 513-646-9708 or email at [email protected].