So tantrums have been an issue for every parent at one point in time. I mean, we call them “terrible two’s” for a reason, right? Everyone has some tricks up their sleeves with their own children, but what do you do when that doesn’t work? Children also have different versions of tantrums, so how do you tell what to do about yours? What is the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown?
First, let me explain the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. Generally, in a tantrum, a child still has some control over their actions and emotions. In a meltdown, they are so distraught they have to wear themselves out to calm down. Either way, they are struggling with emotions and are unable to effectively communicate or regulate. This is where we come in. Teaching our children how to communicate their feelings in a safe, healthy way will not only make our relationships with our children better but will also make it much easier to understand them.
The first thing you can do is observe when your child has a tantrum and see what triggered it. Was it not getting their way over a toy? Or not winning a game? There are so many things in a child’s world that they can’t understand the reasoning for, such as you didn’t let them stay up and play video games, or go to school without eating breakfast. It could be the smallest thing. But the important part is to understand what the triggers are and what is the emotion they are trying to express? For example, my son gets upset when he can’t get a game to load on his tablet. In this instance I know he is angry it isn’t working. He also will cry when he doesn’t get called on in class. In this instance I know he feels ignored. Learning what the triggers are and what emotions they are trying to communicate will help you with the next step.
Don’t get frustrated if there are many things that trigger a tantrum with your child. Break it down a little more. Are all of the triggers caused by anger? Maybe he/she has trouble controlling his anger. Maybe he/she has trouble with feeling left out. Maybe your child just has issues with any negative emotion. This happens more in younger children who don’t have the words to express how they feel. In younger children, you start by teaching them to say, “I’m mad” or “I’m sad.” In older children who know the words you have to help them understand how to deal with those emotions in a safe and healthy way.
Staying calm should be your first reaction. I know this is hard when you’re in the middle of a place where yelling and screaming isn’t ideal but it’s a must. Second thing you should do is give them time to sort it out. Don’t avoid the triggers. That will only teach them that they need to avoid their feelings. Instead give them tools to use to help them understand how they feel. Breakdown their triggers into small parts and start slow. If they have tantrums when it’s time to take away games, give them plenty of warning (10 minutes left, 5 minutes left) and make sure at first they are playing a game that they don’t mind stopping. Continue to do this until you can take it without a tantrum. Consistency is key.
Self regulation is important as well. When they have a tantrum make sure to have them either talk or write down what went wrong, why it happened, and how they can do better the next time they are in that situation. Kids are more rational than you think, and problem solving can be a great tool. Make sure you don’t hover and you let them figure it out. Make sure they know that if they need help, you are there but you believe in them being able to figure it out without your help. And when they do make strides reward them, praise them! You definitely want them to know that you are so proud of them!
Tantrums and Meltdowns are a normal part of development. And they are a huge chance for you to minimize emotional issues later on in development and help your relationship with your child. Is there anything you do that works to curb tantrums in your home?