Whether you’re in your living room or the middle of the grocery store, you know how tough it is to pull your child out of a tantrum. You’ve tried talking in a calm voice, you’ve tried ignoring the behavior — nothing seems to work.
Here, we’ll check out a few phrases that may help your little one take a step back and begin the process of returning to their behavioral baseline.
Tantrum Tool #1: Name the emotion and empathize.
WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE: “Frustration is hard, isn’t it? It’s hard for me, too.”
When your child is going through a tantrum or meltdown, their mind and body are working together to figure out how to navigate hard emotions. The process of learning how to deal with anger, frustration, and sadness can be messy. When your little one has big emotions, they may feel alone. Let them know that you understand and can help.
When you name the emotion you think your child may be experiencing, you’re setting them up for future behavioral success. Over time, you’ll notice that your child is able to verbalize “I feel sad” or “I feel angry” instead of melting down and leaving you to guess what’s going on.
Tantrum Tool #2: Tune into physical feelings.
WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE: “How does your body feel right now?”
Big emotions can feel scary. If it’s the first time your child has experienced intense anger, fear, frustration, or other negative emotions, they may feel confused about their internal signals. When you pause and ask your child to explain how their body feels, they’ll hone in on their experience, and you’ll be better equipped to help them through it.
If your child isn’t sure how to describe what they’re feeling, you may want to try offering suggestions. Saying things like, “When I feel angry, my skin feels hot and my heart pumps fast. Do you feel that way right now?” can provide some insight into what your child is experiencing during their meltdown.
Tantrum Tool #3: Reassure your child that expressing emotions is normal.
WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE: “It’s okay to let your feelings out. Sometimes that can help you feel better when you’re angry.”
It’s normal to react with frustration when faced with a child mid-meltdown, especially if you’re in public. That being said, it’s important to let your child know that it’s safe to let their feelings out. In the midst of a tantrum, your little one looks to you for cues. If your demeanor is angry or upset, their meltdown may continue longer than if you create a calm and comforting environment.
Of course, there are some situations (in the middle of a wedding, for example) where a meltdown can’t happen. During these times, it’s your job to remove your little one from the situation and provide a safe space for them to process their emotions. This can be inconvenient, but it also shows your child that they can trust you to help them through hard times.
Tantrum Tool #4: Offer alternatives.
WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE: “I know you’re upset, but we can’t hurt other people. My job is to keep you safe, let’s go to our calm down area.”
When emotions are overwhelming, they may escape in the form of tiny-fisted violence. It’s key to let your child know that there’s nothing wrong with the emotion they’re feeling; they just need to use a different form of release to return to baseline.
It can take some experimenting to find out what works for your child, but it’s well worth it. Going to a safe area with a loved one can provide the release as well as sense of safety to help your kiddo process big emotions.
Tantrum Tool #5: Match your child’s level of emotion.
WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE: Use a similar intensity and tone as your little one.
Most of us have been on the receiving end of a person using an all-too-calm, customer-service-esque demeanor in an attempt to calm us down when we’re frustrated. It’s patronizing and frustrating, and your child is capable of feeling this way when you bust out your best calm-no-matter-what tone of voice.
Rather than trying to constantly speak in soothing tones, get close to your child’s level. This doesn’t mean you should kick and scream too, but you do want to use your child’s tone and volume as a guide. When your child realizes you’re mirroring their emotion, they’ll feel heard, and may be able to come down from their meltdown more easily.
Tantrum Tool #6: When all else fails, simply be present.
WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE: “I’m right here with you.”
When your child has a tantrum, they’re struggling to stay in control of their emotions — and, often, their body. Simply sitting next to your child while they go through the process of letting their emotions flow can provide a sense of comfort and safety. It’s easier said than done to keep your cool when your child is losing it, but an escalated adult cannot de-escalate a child. Maintaining a calm, comforting presence in the face of huge emotions can let your child know that you’re there for them — no matter what.