Why You Shouldn't Try to Stop a Tantrum, and What to Do Instead
Tantrums are arguably one of the most overwhelming or frustrating aspect of parenting. Emotions are running off the charts, patience can be worn thin, and the whole tantrum can seem completely irrational to the parent.
A lot of parents have asked, “How can I stop my child’s tantrum?”
The answer is… you shouldn’t!
I know they’re annoying. I know they can make your blood boil. I know they can make you want to scream and have a tantrum too. On the other hand, sometimes parents feel guilty when their kids are upset and want to help make them happy again.
The thing is, when we try to distract our kids from what is upsetting them or bribe them “out of it,” what we’re teaching them is this: your negative feelings are not acceptable. When in reality, our emotions can serve us. It’s normal and healthy to feel a wide range of emotions from happy to sad, excited to mad. It’s ALWAYS okay to feel however you feel. Our response to those feelings may or may not be okay.
When we talk our kids out of their feelings, they will start to believe that it’s not okay to feel and experience negative emotions, and start to think that something is wrong with them for feeling that way. They aren’t given the opportunity and the safe place to experience their feelings and learn to deal with them in a healthy manner. When this is repeated over and over, what you end up with is an adult who lacks the coping skills to work through their feelings and bottles in their emotions until they explode.
Wondering what you should do instead?
Educator Janet Lansbury says to “roll out the red carpet” for your child’s negative feelings. Welcome them. Let your child know it’s okay to feel that way and that you’re there to help them.
View your child’s tantrum as a message. A message that either their needs are not being met or that they need your help.
How to navigate a tantrum (from my previous tantrum blog post):
Validate: Validate your child’s feelings and perspective while keeping your words brief. If you talk too much during a tantrum, it can actually escalate the situation. E.g. I can see how upset you are, you really wanted to eat chocolate right now. Remember, don’t try to talk them out of their feelings or minimize it. While the situation may seem ridiculous to you, it is a big deal to them. When you honor their feelings and perspective rather than what you think it should be, your child will feel more safe and secure in a situation where they are dysregulated.
Press pause: Stop what you’re doing and don’t react. If you cannot stay calm in this moment, your child will have a more difficult time calming down. If you need to take a break and leave the room, do it. Take deep breaths, repeat your mantra, feel your feet on the floor, count to 10. Whatever helps you stay grounded and present. Although your child may not recognize or verbalize this, it is so helpful to have a safe parent with them to co-regulate while holding to the established limits.
Reconnect: once everyone is calm, re-establish your connect and trust. Offer a hug, listen to them, be available with your presence. It’s important to note that about 85% of communication is nonverbal. Your child will notice your body language and tone. If you’re tense, arms crossed, avoiding eye contact, they will sense this. Support them through problem solving or redirection.
Teachable Moment: Support them through problem solving or redirection. Keep it brief. Avoid long lectures. Ask your child what they can do differently next time and briefly discuss alternatives.
With this said, SOME tantrums are preventable. Most tantrums occur when kids are overly tired, hungry, thirsty, or longing for connection. Here’s how to plan ahead to help prevent some!:
Many tantrums happen when kids are tired or hungry, or both. So plan ahead. As much as possible, don’t stray from their meal + snack schedules, firm bedtimes, quiet time without screen stimulation. If your tired is tired or starting to become whiny, don’t push it by trying to squeeze in one last errand or finish one last chore. It can wait.
Make sure their love + connection tanks are full! Get a copy of my FREE connection guide here.
Be your child’s safe place. When they start to get upset, angry, frustrated, be their calm. Don’t talk them out of their feelings. Acknowledge and validate them and let them see that you love them unconditionally while they’re learning to cope with difficult feelings.