How to prevent temper tantrums
Temper tantrums score pretty highly on the motherhood stress scale.
It’s not hard to see why.
One of the most exhausting parts of parenting is having to constantly assess and manage someone else’s emotional state in addition to your own and watching your child descend into a full-blown meltdown is a pretty unpleasant experience.
However you feel about them, they’re going to happen.
Tantrums are a normal and developmentally important part of growing up.
Parents will often notice an increase around 12 months before gradually reducing over time as the ability to communicate in a more sophisticated manner develops. Often around three years old tantrums may still be happening but with far less frequency.
Having said that - not all tantrums are created equal.
With a little bit of understanding and planning you could dramatically reduce the number of tantrums happening in your house.
But what is it about a tantrum that feels so hard?
Have you ever heard of the flight or fight response?
It’s an ancient evolutionary response hardwired deep into our brains and it's designed to be triggered whenever we feel threatened, stressed or overwhelmed.
And what is a super-stressful experience?
Managing your five-year-old’s meltdown in the middle of a supermarket while their baby brother joins in?
Attempting to rush out the door only to be blocked by a raging three-year old who won’t put their coat on?
Getting yelled at by your seven-year-old after they fall out with their big sister?
Versions of these tantrums happen every day all over the world and when they do...
You guessed it – just as your child gets trapped in the flight or fight response - SO DO YOU.
Designed to keep you safe in times of physical danger, the flight or fight response is less than helpful for managing the stresses and strains of 21st century parenting.
It's important to remind your ancient brain that this knee-jerk reaction isn’t helpful.
Your child’s tantrum ISN'T an emergency and it IS something that you can manage.
Easier said than done though, right?
Anyway, more about preventing temper tantrums...
Let me introduce the Emotional Cup Theory (it’s actually pretty simple!)
Grab your FREE printable checklist and mini e-guide to start using the the emotional cup strategies in your family today.
Imagine that we all start out each day with a full emotional cup. When our cup is full we can be cheerful, helpful and good problem solvers.
Over the course of a normal day our cup gets drained.
Little by little our emotional energy is spent (just one reason why bedtime can feel like such hard work).
For an adult it might look like getting everyone fed, rushing to school and attending meetings before wading through traffic for a school pickup and then starting the evening routine.
Pretty tiring, huh?
For a child, they have to get up, separated from their parent, navigate the complex waters of nursery or school, fall over in the playground, eat a lunch they don't really like and then get home to tired, stressed-out parents.
Even children who are at home with parents have to manage many small frustrations over the course of a normal day.
It’s no wonder that cups get low.
And when a child’s cup gets too low?
That’s right – it’s a one-way ticket to TANTRUM CITY!
The good news?
Emotional cups can be topped up.
Giving your child’s cup a refill is actually pretty simple.
We just have to remember that children might need one of three different kinds of refills:
Let me tell you a little more about each different type:
Physiological refills are simple but often get overlooked. Making sure children are well rested and fed goes a long way towards avoiding a meltdown.
I’m sure that there are some of you out there rolling your eyes right now but let me tell you a story about a mum I met recently.
She had a son who was going to nursery a couple of days a week. The problem was, he hated it. He screamed and cried the whole way there and practically refused to be left. This mum felt awful and was considering different childcare options because she couldn’t stand how upset he was becoming.
While all of this was going on the mum gave birth to her second child and grandma started doing the nursery run.
With grandma taking him, all the drama seemed to stop. The family puzzled about this for a little while, wondering why someone else doing the drop-off had made such a dramatic difference.
Until they worked it out.
Grandma had been giving the him a snack on the way to nursery in the car.
I’m not kidding.
Now this mum admitted that she wasn’t a big eater herself and so it didn't always occur to her to think about snacks. And because nursery provided breakfast, she just hadn't thought that he had probably gone over twelve hours without eating.
Mum immediately put in place a more regular eating and snacking routine and saw a ton of behaviour issues disappear overnight.
I guess the moral of the story is just because it’s simple doesn’t make it unimportant.
This also why a regular napping schedule is important for younger kids so they don’t become overtired (this one can be trickier to tackle if you have a nap resistant toddler)
Balance refills involve thinking about your child’s ‘up’ time and ‘down’ time.
Most children need a good mix of both on any given day.
Too much ‘up’ time of fast-paced, physical and exciting activities can mean an over-tired meltdown if a child doesn’t get the relaxation they need.
Conversely, too much sitting around ‘down' time will result a child who’s bouncing off the walls come the bedtime routine.
The trick of balancing up and down time is in considering the child as an individual.
Just like you, children have their own quirks and inbuilt nature. A naturally quiet and perhaps more introverted child will need more downtime after a busy day of school.
A boisterous child with lots of energy would do better with another run around the park before bathtime.
These needs will also need adjusting day to day depending on what the schedule in your family looks like at the moment.
It isn’t too hard to get right because it’s similar to how you feel as an adult.
Too little stimulation leaves you feeling bored and restless but too much leaves you feeling rushed and drained.
Get the balance right and voila – a much happier child. Again this isn’t hard to put in place but does require some thoughtful observation and planning.
Now this is the real deal. The golden ticket of toddler tantrum prevention.
More often than not what a child is looking for by the time a tantrum hits is to connect with you.
Their mum and dad cup is empty.
Children actually need a lot more from us than we realise. Especially our focussed undistracted presence, even if it’s only for a short time.
Here’s a bitter pill to swallow: by the time a tantrum happens, there may have been lots of chances to diffuse it simply by giving your child your undivided attention.
A hug, lots of eye contact, a story.
Just a conversation when you weren’t trying to do three other things at once.
This isn’t a judgement, more a comment on the busy pace of life that can leave our children feeling unseen.
I’ve helped lots of parents with bedtime battles and the one thing I always talk about are the hours before it even gets to bedtime.
Because if your child doesn’t feel like they got that refill they needed?
Trust me, they aren’t going to bed anytime soon.
The last-minute drink request, the sudden injury, the pleading for just one more story should all be clues that your child isn’t ready to separate from you just yet.
Creating a mindful and connected bedtime routine can work wonders.
Lots of affectionate physical touch, chatting and a relaxed pace can all help to let you child drink in every last bit of you that they need ready to let go of you until morning (or at least for a few hours)
Using this cup theory as a kind of mental checklist and planning aid can dramatically reduce the number of tantrums in your house.
So that's it. The emotional cup theory for happier....well, humans really.
But the real bonus of this tantrum taming trick?
It also works for grown-ups.
Making sure to top up your own cup means you’re likely to be much more patient, available and happier as a parent.
So, don’t just apply this simple theory to the kids. Think about your cup too.
Full cups all round.
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