Since I have made my parenting journey with Juliet public, I've had a lot of moms asking me how I handle tantrums! ( Things you never think will be your problem! ha!) I spent some time thinking about what we have learned the last 4 years and what worked for us and wrote them out to share with those who asked. So here they are! I hope that they serve you and I'm praying for you! I pray that these words will be met with supernatural comfort and peace for your circumstances. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, outnumbered, and out of control, but these little emotional blessings we call children are teaching us as much as we are teaching them! Letting go of perfectionism and being willing to be real and messy and honest is liberating! There is no way to be a perfect parent and a million ways to be a good one!
Having a difficult child is well...difficult! We have ideas about what having children will be like, right? I don't think any of us dream of being the parent in the grocery story with a screaming toddler, but anyone with children has experienced at least ONE of these embarrassing moments! However, some of us get blessed with a child that throws them REGULARLY. It's not a moment or a bad day, it's life!
My oldest Scarlett was a dream baby. She slept through the night from 4 months on, she napped three hours everyday, she was happy! 19 months later Juliet joined us and we got a crash course in sibling differences. Juliet was born screaming and she never stopped. I was up every 90 minutes dealing with an enraged baby until she was almost 2. (She's 4 now and still doesn't sleep through the night.) She was either barely tolerating life or ANGRY. It was exhausting! Running errands was like stepping through a mine field. I never knew what would set her off or how the trip would go. I would be so tense waiting for her to break down that, even on the days she didn't, I would feel emotionally exhausted.
It's so hard but walking through the process has taught me a lot and I want to share some key points with you!
1. How your child behaves is not a reflection of YOU. A child throwing a tantrum is an individual making choices. As parents, our job is to direct them and to give them the tools to cope with their emotions. Understanding this helps to view those moments as teaching moments instead of becoming angry or frustrated with them for embarrassing us. At first, I struggled with other peoples judgements but once I decided I was training my child wherever I was and stopped looking at other peoples expressions, it enabled me to focus on what my child needed from me and helped me to have patience with her. Which leads me to point two:
2. Stay calm and speak quietly. When your child's emotions are out of control, they need stability. They need the example of how to remain calm when things aren't going their way. They need to feel loved and accepted even when they aren't behaving. Not every day is the same. I've had days where my screaming child will let me hold her, days where she runs away and I have to carry her kicking and screaming, days I have let her cry through the store in cart, and days I have had to give my full grocery cart to a store employee apologetically. And sometimes those decisions are driven by how well I am keeping MY cool! Staying calm and speaking quietly ( in their ear if need be) makes them calm down and stop to listen. It may take a few minutes but continue speaking to them. I often ask her questions too. This morning she actually broke down at a donut shop because she asked for a certain donut( repeatedly and rudely) and changed her mind but it was too late and people were lining up behind us. As I spoke quietly in her ear about her choices, I asked her if she saw the line of people. She looked up and saw the line of people. Then, I asked her if she understood that we couldn't understand her when she was screaming. When she acknowledged that, I asked her to tell me what was wrong and we began a conversation. It takes a long time in the beginning so don't get discouraged, but it'd definitely worth the time invested!
3. Listen. Often, children that have a hard time communicating are spoken over. We try to guess what they mean, we interrupt them, and fail to have patience for them finding the words to explain. Slowing down and allowing them to walk through it is helpful because it encourages them to keep trying. They feel heard. It''s painfully slow sometimes and it takes a conscious effort to allow them to grow in this area but the more effective they get at communicating, the less the emotions will rule the day!
4. Key Words. Most children that struggle with tantrums are children that struggle to articulate. They don't know how to communicate what they are feeling and so they jump straight to sadness or anger. As they learn to speak, giving them the exact words to say for recurring scenarios gives them tools to cope. In our home, "No, thank you" are safe words. If my daughters don't care for something happening to them they can say it and we stop IMMEDIATELY. They know we will protect their personal space and opinions and that has helped to reduce the amount of lashing out that happens. It was a slow process! We had to repeat it to Juliet every time she got angry about a situation and then she gradually would say it angrily and then eventually learned to communicate before getting angry. As she grew older, we got very specific with how to communicate in other situations in which she would struggle and she has grown dramatically in her ability to articulate her feelings and desires.
5. Never reward the tantrum. It's easy to give in. We just want peace. We just want to make it through the check out lane without creating a spectacle but rewarding a tantrum with the object of their desire ONLY reinforces that throwing the tantrum is affective. It's hard to deal with a screaming child but once they know they won't get want they want, they start looking for other methods. At the donut store today, we did NOT go back to get her the donut she wanted. She needed to walk through her decisions and own the outcome. Though to be honest, if she had calmly asked us for another donut we would have purchased one to reward the good behavior.
6. Reward good behavior IMMEDIATELY. It's also easy to treat good behavior as "normal" and expected but lavishing praise for good behavior and recognizing them when they make things pleasant will encourage them to make things pleasant more often! We don't often buy treats for good behavior though because that quickly becomes the reason they behave and then good behavior is contingent on a purchase or sweets. We want them owning their behavior and being proud of themselves not doing it to get something.
7. Consequences. Punishments are sometime in order but each child is different. Getting to their heart and having them feel the consequences of their actions is important. For some, this mine mean loss of tv time, putting them in their room alone until they calm down, taking a favorite toy away, canceling a family outing, or whatever makes them regret their choices and respect others. Juliet often needs time to herself to calm down. We don't allow her to scream and cry anywhere but her room unless she is willing to be held and comforted. Often, after a few minutes, she comes down calm and ready to discuss what happened. We have stricter consequences for violence or dangerous disobedience but generally speaking helping her calm down gives us the opportunity to have a helpful discussion where she understands and accepts the punishment for her behavior. As a side note, she has items that comfort her, specifically a baby blanket. I think it's important that those things are not taken away from a child suffering with emotional outbursts. They are already having a hard time coping and often those items help ground them. We have discovered that Juliet needs a LOT of comforting. She needs to feel secure and her ratty baby blanket has proven to be a huge help in giving her security. Often after an outburst where she refuses our open arms, she calms down and runs to us for "snuggles" with her blanket. Setting boundaries and enforcing them with grace provides her with security.
8. Be aware of YOUR words and tone of voice. Shame is something we can pile on our children in what we say or simply how we say it. I have seen the look on my daughters face when I have a bad reaction to her spilling her drink on the floor. Just the way I said her name and responded communicated to her that SHE was bad. It affected me. I vowed to do my best to leave shaming out of my parenting tool belt. Even a child throwing a temper tantrum doesn't ned to be shamed. They need to be taught and loved. Shame leads us to believe that our worth is tied up with our behavior and that is simply not true. Creating an environment where they feel comfortable making mistakes, failing, and learning is what they need to grow into the best versions of themselves!
9. Say Yes when you can. It's easy to say no for our own convenience. We don't feel like going to the park, or playing a game, or helping them with a craft, but I have found that since my kids know that I say yes when I can that they accept no much more readily. If they feel like the answer is always no they are going to be more likely to fight for what they want.
10. Have Grace. For your child and YOU. I know that Juliet is much less able to control her emotions when she is tired even though I have trained her. I try to be more aware in those moments of what I am expecting of her. Sometimes its better NOT to require them to have their room immaculate before bed, or let them watch a show while you're making dinner, or forget about the laundry and just snuggle them because they need the emotional security. Slow down and look for what is truly priority in this moment. The work will always be there. As moms, we have a full plate! It''s important to tie your worth to how much you get done or how well your children are behaving. Each day simply be consistent with your children and doing the best you can is enough. And it's ok to admit that sometimes surviving is the best you can do!
I often wished my daughters came with an owners manual, but since I've let go of trying to be a perfect parent with perfect children, I've been able to stand in amazement as I watch them grow and as I watch myself grow! I find myself feeling more and more excited about who these amazing young ladies grow up to be and I feel honored that I get to be their mother! We can't make them into the people we WANT them to be but we can help direct them and encourage them into the best version of who they ARE and watching that happen is absolutely the most amazing experience I have ever had! If I can leave you with any encouragement, it would be this: You are doing so much better than you think you are! Be patient with them and patient with yourself!
"And Aubrey was her name. A not so very ordinary girl or name."(Or so says David Gates ;) I'm a wife to Phillip, a mother to Scarlett and Juliet. We live in the beautiful city of Thornton, Co. I'm a recovering red bull addict. I love to read. I hate to cook. I seek to be inspired and also to inspire others. I am a Beachbody Coach on a quest to be truly healthy mind, soul, and body and challenge others to do the same.