As a caregiver, helping your child through a tantrum can be hard to do. Caregivers often ask me questions about tantrums and how to deal with them. This article will provide you with eight tips to help you and your child cope with a tantrum.
8 Tips to Help You Support You Child:
1. Rationalizing is not the solution- think about it; when you are angry or frustrated, and someone tells you to calm down, does it work? Probably not. If your child is having a tantrum, don’t try to explain things to them or correct their behavior. They are no longer listening. Validate and honor their emotions so they can understand what is happening. For example, “Maria, I can see you are feeling frustrated. Let’s take a break together so we can breathe and relax our bodies.”
2. Emotional safety is vital- overwhelming emotions in young children almost always lead to a tantrum. Why? Because young children don’t have the emotional maturity, vocabulary, or skills to cope with overwhelming and complicated emotions. How can caregivers ensure emotional safety? Normalize what they are feeling, practice using an emotional vocabulary (i.e., I see you are feeling “X”), and providing your child with love and comfort; a hug can go a long way to help your child cope.
3. Physical safety– in some cases, tantrums can be dangerous; is your child on the street, are they hitting themselves, hurting others, etc.? Make sure your child’s physical safety is ensured before trying to help them cope. We don’t want to be doing grounding exercises in the middle of a parking lot at the mall. Prepare yourself for some pushback from your child; they will not want to move or stop doing what they are doing. Be direct and verbalize why the situation is dangerous and how you must help them be safe.
4. Get down at their level– if your child is having a tantrum or their emotions are overwhelming, talking over them and having your stature intimidate them can escalate the situation. Get down on their level and make eye contact with them. Regardless of their age, you are modeling appropriate social interactions and respect. Be mindful of their space; depending on why your child is having a tantrum or feel overwhelmed, providing them with physical touch (hug, hand holding, rubbing back) might not work.
5. Model appropriate coping skills– Children are like super sponges! As a caregiver, you can also teach children how to cope with emotions and crises. Teach them breathing techniques, use calming activities, instill “taking a break” opportunities, create calming corners at home, etc. Children are never too young to learn skills to self-regulate; if they are having a tantrum, walk them through the coping skill with you yourself also participate. If you want to take modeling a step further, next time you have high levels of stress, anxiety, or any situation that has triggered emotions, don’t hide it from your children. Use simple language and explain what you are feeling and how you are going to cope with it. For example: “dad is feeling anxious today, and he is going to do some deep breathing to relax.”
6. Remember that the only way across is through– trying to stop a tantrum might be counterproductive. Part of coping or processing an emotion is to feel it fully. If your child feels supported and safe, they will be able to go through an overwhelming feeling with the knowledge that they will be fine. We want to teach kids that being overwhelmed doesn’t have to be scary and that eventually (with some tools and coping skills), they will return to being regulated. Don’t let your discomfort stop your children from fully feeling the whole spectrum of emotions.
7. Debrief– once your child is calm and regulated, have a conversation with them about what happened. Ask questions such as how did your body feel? What happened before you started feeling this way? (Discovering triggers can help caregivers be proactive) did you get what you needed from me? Did you feel safe? Etc.
8. We all make mistakes, be gentle with yourself– the first thing I tell all caregivers who feel like they are struggling or who are unsure if they are making the right decisions is that “children do not come with instructions.” Every child and every situation is going to be different. What worked for one child might not work for another. Every tip and intervention you learn and try are just tools for your parenting toolbox. The bigger the toolbox, the better!
I hope these tips are helpful and make you feel more empowered as a caregiver.
Alejandra is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Clinical Counselor (AMF #105469, APC# 4917). She graduated from Brandman University with a Masters in Psychology; she also holds a Bachelors in Psychology and Criminal Justice from California State University, San Bernardino.
Currently, she works for a non-profit organization that provides mental health services to schools in southern California. In addition, she also works for a private practice where she specializes in working with children, youth, and families suffering from a variety of issues such as academic performance, learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, bipolar, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and grief.