Handling Tantrums Mindfully

Like it? Share it! πŸ’—πŸŒŽ

We’ve all been there, that moment you realize the tantrum has begun… When the attempts to distract, redirect and de-escalate have failed and a meltdown is inevitable… It happens to the best of us. Sometimes your little ones big emotions are just too much for them and they let it out the only way they can at the time.

In these times, I calmly let them know that it’s OK to feel frustrated (upset, angry, sad, etc), but that it’s not OK to throw a tantrum about it. If they are still rational enough to speak with, try offering a calming technique, such as explaining that deep breaths can help us calm down when were upset, modeling deep breaths and asking them to try it with you. If they are too upset to listen, or they refuse to try, you can let them know it’s OK to take some
time to calm themselves down and that they can let you know when they are ready. At this point, I try to give them a bit of space and a little time. They are feeling very strong emotions that they don’t have the tools to rationally cope with yet, so sometimes they need to scream or cry in order to vent. I try to go back to what I was doing pre-tantrum, while still monitoring them and staying close enough to stop them from hurting themselves or others. A typical tantrum will escalate, reach a peak, then diminish and the less attention you can give the tantrum, the quicker it should pass. Our attempts to stop the tantrum or rationalize with them usually just re-escalates the situation so it’s best to let them work it out and wait until they are in a more rational state to try and talk to them.
When they show signs of calming down, I try to empathize with them. Think back to a time when you had one of those big, ugly, sobbing cries. The type where your whole body heaves & your nose runs,.. I’m sure we’ve all experienced an ugly cry at some emotional time in our lives, so, while your little one’s reason is most likely not related to anything as monumental as what caused an adult’s ugly cry, remember that they still experienced those same feelings. They lost control and emotion took over. Through your empathy and modeling of calming techniques (such as taking deep breaths, going for a walk, taking a break to think or read, etc.), they will develop their abilities to cope with their big emotions.

My first post-tantrum reaction is to offer a hug and show them i understand, it really is hard to go through that. Sometimes they’ll accept the cuddle and sometimes they’ll refuse it. In either case, I try to take it as a teachable opportunity by saying something along the lines of ‘thank you for calming down, I know it’s hard when we can’t do what we want to.’ Then, I explain the rule and reason (for example, I couldn’t let you climb the shelves because it wasn’t safe) and offer some kind of alternative, like

  • You can climb this tree instead
  • Would you like to play (tag, race, etc.)
  • If you can be a good listener, we will go climb the jungle gym at the park after lunch, deal?

My post-tantrum talk formula:

  • Acknowledge that they overcame their strong emotions.
  • Empathize with the emotional roller coaster they just experienced (try not to think of the reason, instead just acknowledge the feelings they were having; anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration, etc..)
  • Explain (short & simple recap of the ‘rule’ and the reason for it).
  • Offer an alternative.

Next time your little one melts down, remember that these are the opportunities we are given for shaping their coping skills. The coping skills that they will carry with them throughout their life. We are their ‘inner voice’. Take some time to think about what you hope your child would hear that inner voice say when they face hard times as an adult. Be that voice for them now, as children, so that they will hear it later when they need it most.