Session 2 Recap: Understanding and Handling Behavior and Tantrums
Thanks to everyone who came out to our two Let’s Connect meetings this month! We had lots of new faces (and returning ones!) and it was great to connect with you all.
We spent our time talking about behavior and covered three main topics:
We went over two key ways to approach behavior in general:
But the majority of unwanted behavior will dissipate if you take these steps:
every one negative interaction (this is a good rule of thumb for all relationships!)
When Are Tantrums Happening?
Take a minute to think about what time of day tantrums seem to appear for your kids and plan accordingly. For my kids it’s most often in the hour before dinnertime or before bedtime, which are both big transitions. Everyone is tired and/or hungry and there is a lot going on. Sometimes there is a simple underlying cause – hunger or tiredness. Planning ahead to avoid exhaustion and “hanger” will be your best strategy here.
Why Are Tantrums Happening?
I asked the group to think about what usually leads up to a tantrum/emotional outburst. Based on the responses we concluded that it was almost always a response to children not getting their way or being told “no”. What this boils down to is their need for choice, for autonomy, for a say in their day-to-day life.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Imagine for a second what it must feel like to spend your day being shuffled from point A to point B, being asked to do things that you don’t really feel like doing, and constantly being bombarded with requests and commands. Oh wait, that kind of sounds like adulthood! But as adults, we are able to handle the times when we aren’t in charge by having control and autonomy in other areas. Well, kids have that same need for choice and independence.
And yes, our children need us to provide structure and boundaries and of course, parents usually know what’s best. But kids also need to be respected and listened to. We can do both! We can be calmly confident in the limits that we set while also giving them a say in things that effect their day.
Meet the Need for Autonomy
A proactive step to avoid our children getting to the boiling point when they can’t have their way is to try and give them age appropriate autonomy throughout the day and save our “NO” for when we really need it.
And I want to gently push you beyond the classic “red fork or blue fork” choice here. Get creative!
*Include toddlers in helping set the table or in deciding who sits where. Better yet, ask them to help pick out vegetables at the store for dinner. Toddlers love feeling useful in practical ways around the house.
*Give preschoolers a choice – would you like to take your bath before dinner or after dinner this evening? Let them choose a fun activity – “We have some errands to run today and then we can do something fun when we’re finished. Would you like to go to the park or the library to choose some books?”
Sometimes as parents we get so engrossed in holding it all together that we loose sight of the fact that our children are people with opinions too. They have a deep need to be listened to and valued and giving them a choice when it’s appropriate and doable is a really great way to meet those needs.
Of course, we can do all the things to try and avoid tantrums, but sometimes our child just needs to get their big feelings out (just like adults need to vent every now and again). We make things so much easier for ourselves when we can remove the stigma around tantrums – they are a very normal part of development. Your child has an underdeveloped brain and needs your help to regulate their strong emotions. That’s all!
How Can Understanding Brain Science Help us to Parent More Effectively?
The brain is built up over time and is heavily influenced by the parent/caregiver-child attachment. The experiences that we have over and over in childhood actually wire our brains for connection. In a nutshell, the way you respond to your child has the power to mold their brain!
I shared with the group about the three areas of the brain: Upper, middle, and lower.
I asked the group to picture the last time their child had a tantrum, so I’ll ask you to do the same. What was she doing with her body? What expression was on her face? Was she yelling? Crying? Hitting? Throwing things?
When a child is in that out of control state they are quite literally going out of their mind. They have been hijacked by their reactive lower brain and are no longer thinking or acting rationally.
Stress hormones are flooding her body, she’s incapable of controlling herself or her emotions and unable to tap into any higher-order thinking skills; like considering consequences or others’ feelings. She is stuck in panic mode.
Now, I want you to remember how you felt during that tantrum. When you think back to the noise and how out of control your child was, what emotions/feelings were you experiencing yourself?
We listed things like anger, frustration, the desire to retreat, fear, embarrassment, shame, and inadequacy. These moments are HARD and most of the time we as parents are just plain tired. Even on our best days we only have so much energy to deal with tantrums. That’s why the steps I’m sharing with you are as much about making things easier for you the parent as they are for your child.
Your instinct will be to go into your own reactive (lower) brain to protect yourself or shut down the tantrum. The problem with that is it causes all rational thought to go out the window and only escalates things with your child.
Your number one goal here: get yourself and your child back into the upper brain. You do this by staying calm (or getting calm). Remember: You are the anchor in their storm.
So how do we do that? How can we respond in a way that supports our child, helps them move through the big feeling, but also doesn’t cave to their demands?
*Use non-threatening body language (relaxed and open arms, soft face, eye contact).
*Offer a hug.
*Talk about appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior.
*Enforce the limit with compassion. Show them you’re in their corner. Be clear and certain, but not forceful. It’s ok for them to push back and not like the limit.
6. Retell the story later. This helps them to make sense of their emotions.
When your child is calm and receptive, talk about what happened and how they felt. Try talking to them while you’re both engaged in an activity to take the pressure off (riding in the car, taking a walk, coloring, playing with Legos).
Less is more here so don’t worry about saying the right thing. 90% of this is the calming and connecting. The solution and the boundary setting isn’t as important! When in doubt, offer hugs and validation.
If you’re interested in getting some one-on-one support in your parenting, I’d love to talk with you about my coaching services. Reach out to me at Hannah@insideoutparentcoaching.com for more info. Thanks!