My blood is pumping, my heart is pounding, my teeth are clenched. My body feels like it’s just wrestled a giant grisly bear and lost, but no, I’ve just been trying (unsuccessfully) to help my strong willed daughter deal with a toddler tantrum whilst trying to get her out of the door and to nursery on time.
My daughter is a feisty little monkey. If things don’t go her way, EXACTLY as she wants them in under 0.03 seconds, we all know about it. And so do the neighbours and anyone in a 3 mile radius of her.
Yep, we all know about toddler tantrums (and how actually kids continue to have tantrums, even beyond the “toddler years”.)
How Toddler Tantrums Affect Adults
When your child is in the throws of screaming and shouting and flailing their little limbs, we get upset and start to mirror their emotions all thanks to those mirror neurones we have in our brains. Just like when we hear a particularly loud dog bark near us or see a picture of an angry face, we start to get upset.
We have a strong emotional connection to our kids so they are way way way more likely to get us going than a picture of a random angry face.
And if you have more than one child, the other children will start to mirror that emotion too.
Before you know it, you’ve got 4 upset and screaming kids on your hands.
No wonder my blood pressure is rising and my body is going into “emergency panic attack mode”. The adrenaline is surging around my body just in the same way as IF there was a bear and I have to fight it to protect my kids.
Except my body gets so geared up to fight the non-existent bear, it needs an enemy to fight and the nearest thing happens to be my screaming child.
My body is telling me that my child is the enemy and my brain isn’t doing a very good job of putting it right.
Let’s take a pause from me and think about my daughter lying on the floor screaming.
What Does My Toddler Need Whilst She is Having a Tantrum?
Children don’t have tantrums to be naughty.
They have tantrums for many reasons. Perhaps they’re frustrated because mummy is insisting that wearing a coat will make her warmer not colder and she knows better (when she puts it on for the first nano-second it feels colder against her skin.)
Perhaps she’s worried and doesn’t want to go to school.
Perhaps she was just happily playing and isn’t ready to put down her toys and leave the house.
Whatever the reason, she’s overcome by huge emotions that she can’t control (a bit like her mother who should know better but is equally struggling to stop fighting the imaginary bear.)
What my daughter actually needs now is a sprinkling of golden fairy dust and her “emotional coach fairy god mother” to appear and help her with her big emotions.
Just like I’d quite like someone to put a calming hand on my shoulder and say, “it’s alright, you can do this”.
Any ideas who that fairy godmother might be?
You got it, the bear-wrestling amazon warrior disguised as me.
I need to transform myself into an emotional coach fairy god mother pretty quickly.
And exactly how am I going to manage that?
So Here’s That ONE Thing You Need To Do When Your Kids Have a Tantrum.
Think about it. Your kids are going to have tantrums. There is no way you can prevent every tantrum. I’d be quite happy with spreading them out to one every 15 minutes, just to give me time to breath.
If you can’t stop them (and yes, there are lots of things that you can do to keep them to a minimum but you can’t prevent all of them), then you need to be able to help your child work their way through them.
By seeing to yourself first.
Put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child because if you’ve keeled over from lack of oxygen, you won’t be able to help your child put on their oxygen mask.
If you’re busy battling your own fight and flight response, you won’t be able to help your child to calm down.
You need to calm down to help your child calm down.
How do You Calm Yourself When Your Child is Having a Tantrum?
Yes, yes, I know you’re always breathing but you focus on your breathing. Let everything around you go and really pay attention to breathing in and out.
Concentrate on your breathing until you feel calm and in control.
(Unless of course your child is in danger, clearly get them out of danger first.)
You’ll be surprised to find that as few as 5 deep breaths can help you feel more tranquil and less like joining your child on the floor screaming.
Dr Laura Markham has a technique that she calls STOP, DROP and BREATHE.
You STOP whatever you’re doing.
DROP your agenda (getting your kids to school on time) and BREATHE.
When YOU have calmed down, you’ll be in a position to help your child.
It sounds super easy but remember those hormones surging around your body. They have disconnected the thinking part of your brain and your body is running on “auto pilot attack”.
You need to get the message through to your brain and your body will try to intercept.
Getting the Message to Your Brain
Find a mantra that you can use, a phrase that you can repeat to yourself over and over again.
“It’s not an emergency!”
“She needs my help!”
“Stop and breath!”
Pick a few words that resonate with you and keep repeating them over and over again.
Your body will remember to say them even with it’s in “attack mode” and eventually the message will get through to the thinking part of your brain.
Calming Yourself as a Parent Gets Easier
The good news is that the more you practise calming yourself, the easier it will get.
Like everything, being aware of our own emotions and learning to manage them rather than allowing them to hijack us and control us, takes practise.
You wouldn’t expect to play a piano sonata when you first start lessons so don’t expect to suddenly flick a switch and find that you’re all calm and zen like overnight.
Concentrate On The Positive.
To begin with, you’ll slip up and get angry or frustrated with your kids.
Forgive yourself and move on.
Concentrate on the times that you did manage to STOP, DROP and BREATH.
Gradually you’ll see that you’ll successfully calm yourself more and more and the frustrating, angry times are less and less.
Until one day you won’t remember the last time you got angry or upset with your toddler lying on the floor in the middle of a tantrum.
As you control your own emotions, you’ll find that you can help your child more and more and actually the tantrums will get less and less.
When Your Child Has A Tantrum and They Are in Danger
Like the time my toddler decided to have a tantrum half way across the zebra crossing.
Move them out of danger first and THEN calm yourself.
Next Time Your Toddler Has a Tantrum
The next time your toddler is lying on the floor screaming because you’ve just given her the pink hairbrush she just asked for but in slightly the wrong way, remember to breath.
When your child has a toddler tantrum, your first responsibility is to see to yourself and CALM yourself down so that you’re in a position to help your child.
Today as we leave the house, I can see my daughter getting upset because she wants a coat despite it being warm and breezy.
I remember to breath and focus myself and address her problem before she even gets to lying on the floor and screaming.
This time I’ve managed to avert a tantrum and didn’t need to calm myself during a toddler tantrum. I’m sure there’ll be chance to practise soon!