Four game-changing phrases for managing tantrums
You're at playgroup and it's happening. You see their tiny face redden and wince as you hear the shrieks. You try to catch the flailing little body before it hits the floor. You feel staring eyes on all sides as your own cheeks start to flush.
When your child is having a tantrum it’s pretty difficult for even most zen parent among to keep their cool.
When a child experiences overwhelming feelings, the body enters a state of fight or flight.
That means they’re physically flooded with stress hormones designed to help them do one thing – survive. The body does this by physically and mentally preparing to engage in combat or get away as quickly as possible.
The problem is that seeing all that raw, unfiltered pain and emotion in our children often triggers the alarm system in our brain too.
Once we’ve joined our little ones in a state of flight or fight, the only thing we want to do is make it stop. We might feel full of rage and want to shout or even grab or spank them (fight) or the overwhelming desire to just run and leave them (flight).
Since neither of these are great options we often get stuck in the third possible response – freeze. We stand murmuring ineffectually or hissing out bribes and trying to ignore passers-by.
We might have unhelpful thoughts that serve to add fuel to our survival fire;
Why are you doing this to me?
She’s so naughty, what’s wrong with her?
Stop this is so embarrassing!
She’ll just have to learn. I don’t make a big fuss when I’m upset.
In particular, we might struggle seeing our child’s pain if we’re someone who doesn’t often allow our own pain to be seen. Many of us have been brought up to implicitly understand that negative emotions aren't to be seen or even felt. So understandably being brought face-to-face with all those big, uncontrollable emotions makes us panic.
A panicked parent is not a smart parent.
But you can learn to manage your own survival response better. Like everything, it just takes practice. Becoming more aware of personal triggers and approaching the issue with a more mindful approach can help to overthrow a negative dynamic.
One of the easiest ways to start becoming more mindful in your interactions is to become aware of and then alter your internal script.
Try some of these more helpful phrases on for size.
Tantrums are developmentally normal
She’s trying to tell me she’s having a hard time
It’s just a feeling and it’ll pass
Whatever happens, I can handle it.
You can even write these phrases down to have with you before you get better at remembering them.
These phrases serve to dampen down your own flight or fight response. They let your body and brain know that despite the knee-jerk reaction this isn’t an emergency.
It’s just a normal bump in the road.
Once you start practising keeping yourself calm you’ll notice that you’re more able to stay present for you child. Tantrums might even become less frequent or shorter because when you’re calm, your child is more able to connect into those feelings themselves.
But even if the tantrums don’t change, they key thing is that you’ll FEEL differently about them.
They become manageable. (You can also find your own personal parenting mantra)
The trick is not to let your own feelings cloud your interactions.
When you’re calm you’ll be able to offer them some solace even if you still feel a pinprick of irritation. You’ll be able to empathise even if you were the person who set the boundary in the first place.
Most importantly, you’ll actively be doing the very thing you want your child to learn; self-regulating.
Not minimising but noticing, honouring and managing your own emotions.
You’ll be a zen master in no time.