You’ve heard it, seen it, and probably even experienced the amazing power of a child’s temper tantrum. While it’s a common misconception that tantrums are an undesirable result of a young child being “difficult,” I challenge you as parents and caregivers to take a new perspective on this topic, especially around holiday season. Why? Because a new perspective and a little insight can change anything.
While tantrums can be stressful and frustrating, not to mention embarrassing, it’s a vital part of your child’s development. It’s also a wonderful learning experience for both you and your child.
While tantrums are commonly viewed as children reacting negatively in/to a situation, the bottom line is that children are moving from dependence to independence and working on developing their emotional self-regulation, in addition to building their budding communication skills.
We, as adults, have had a lot of practice with our emotions during high stress and difficult situations. Because of this we are hopefully uniquely advantaged to help young children learn these necessary skills. We can use experiences such as these to learn more about where and how we can support our child(ren).
According to Caroline Miller’s article, “Why Do Kids Have Tantrums and Meltdowns?” a child’s tantrum can be an indication of a need for some support in emerging developmental areas like: communication, problem solving, negotiation, impulse control, self soothing, and/or coping skills.
As parent’s and caregivers we can help develop and build these skills by paying attention to triggers that might prompt our child(ren). For example, if your child has difficulty leaving the park or any other fun activity try having them assist you in setting a timer on your phone (they could even be in charge of picking out a special tone that is only associated with their timer). This provides your child(ren) with the opportunity to be independent AND physical acknowledge that when the timer goes off, they know it’s time to head out.
There are many other ways that we can set our child(ren) up for success and minimize or eliminate tantrums. By creating and sticking to schedules and routines children know when/what is going to happen and there are fewer surprises that could trigger emotional reactions. Don’t forget that talking to and reminding your child(ren) helps keep them in the loop and feeling like they are an active participant in the decision making process (this also helps build autonomy and leadership skills).
In addition, you could try providing 2-3 choices to you child(ren), if necessary, that will satisfy both their need for independence and provide you with the outcome you need.
You can also set up challenging situations that are controlled (for example having a child work on a more advanced puzzle). This strategy allows parents and caregivers to actively monitor their child’s progress and response through a difficult situation, while still allowing them the independence and space to experiment and experience solving the problem/stress autonomously. Don’t forget to stay close and calm so you can lend a helping hand or ear when your child is in need.
All in all, it’s important to note that staying calm and communicating clearly is a vital part of the process. We as parents and caregivers can draw from our personal knowledge and verbally guide children through their rapid social-emotional and cognitive development during high stress and less than perfect conditions. As children see parents and caregivers approach challenging situation, tantrums included, with control and confidence, it sets an example. This coupled with loving help and understanding can change the face of your child’s triggers and reduce or eliminate angst, providing a smooth day for everyone.
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