Iím not sure about your children, but each of my children had a different approach to how they would bubble over with emotion. Whether it was determined fist clenching, excessive pointing, stomping feet, loud shrieking, or blood curdling screams, they definitely had a way of trying to make their point. Not every child will stay in the tantrum phase for long, and some will stay longer than others. Every child is unique; however, I have found that the fundamentals in surviving a tantrum have remained the same.
1. Communication Ė Despite the annoyance of continued tantrums, I found that once my toddler developed to an age where they could try and communicate was actually extremely positive. While I donít look forward to every moan and groan, or always have the time to tackle it like a professional, I certainly have learned that the biggest issue is trying to figure out exactly what my child wants.
2. Engagement Ė If my child started to display a symptom of a tantrum, I would stop what I was doing to help sort out whatever the issue was as soon as practical. Iíve learned that continuing on with what I was doing, or just finishing something really quickly, usually leaves me feeling rushed and grumpy, instead of open and willing to help. My quick job could have more than likely have waited the 2 minutes that the discussion with my child would take. Setting yourself up for a more positive interaction is far more beneficial than the alternative, which can lead to emotions going awry.
3. Get down to their level Ė Not stoop to their level! Crouch down, make eye contact, and be open to help. If crouching down is too hard, pick them up. If they are too heavy to pick up, good luck getting them to sit down with you to discuss. Whatever the method you choose, make sure that you are not at a level that is intimidating. Building a relationship of trust and respect starts when they are a baby. Donít forget they are small minds with big ideas; they may not be able to articulate it as well as you can.
4. Emotion Control Ė The biggest issue that I have always struggled with was managing my own behaviour during a tantrum. Clearly the 2 year old wasnít going to be a master at this, and more than likely would be looking to me for how to deal with things. I encourage giving plenty of space for answers and whatever tactic you chose to tackle tantrums of the most challenging kind like defiant ones or what I like to call the Stage 4 Public Tantrum*. Sometimes youíll never figure out what your child wanted, and they will be left discontent and possibly inconsolable. Sometimes the biggest part you can play in the tantrum is to facilitate the discussion, identify what the childís emotion is for them to learn to name it and as they mature figure out what strategies work for them to calm themselves down, maintain your own composure, and isolating yourselves to deal with it privately, particularly if you are in public.
5. Distraction Ė Iíve used this as my biggest tool, once I couldnít figure out the underlying issue, or perhaps they were getting into something they shouldnít. Or like my four year old daughter getting her socks on the right feet in the morning, some arguments you just arenít going to win. My first go to when things start going pear shaped is distraction! Whether you use animals, a toy, books, tv show, fruit, stickers, etc.
6. Bag of tricks Ė At a last resort, these are my go to things once everything else has failed me. I give them a hug and a kiss, and then I get a drink and a snack for my child. I often will put on some fun music just to lift the mood. Sometimes, they are still shrieking and carrying on, but itís hard to maintain that once there is a snack and drink on the table. Iím not sure about you, but I am often more rational after Iíve had a snack. If they still havenít stopped after offering alternatives, snacks, drinks, etc, I will usually explain they will need to go to their room to calm down, which is appropriate from around two years old on up I think.
7. Fatigue Ė my daughter has her worst tantrums when she is tired. Funnily enough, so do I. I wonder where she got that from. I try to help her through these tantrums very delicately, because when there is an extra layer of vulnerability, itís highly unreasonable of me as a parent to expect the best display of behaviour from her. After all, my role is to help guide her through her emotions and how to calm herself down. Mentioning the word nap, sleep, night time, etc will only add more fuel to the fire. If I have the time, itís the perfect chance to go for a drive to get fresh air, allow her to fall asleep in the car. Or cuddle with her on the couch.
Public Tantrums Ė nothing can evaporate your sense of control as a parent than the much dreaded public tantrum. After all the tricks are used, try your hardest to maintain composure, and isolate yourselves. Donít make idle threats. Help them focus on something else to distract them from the initial outburst. I have caved and used the golden ticket, which in my house unfortunately is a Happy Meal as a very last resort. I donít believe that using a distraction is rewarding them for bad behaviour, it is facilitating peace and helping them to learn the skill of calming down. If you calm down, I will do XYZ. Not giving in to the demand, going around it.