Just when I thought we were out of the woods with tantrums, we entered the phase of meltdowns! No difference really; a reframe just feels good sometimes. 🙂
Back when I was a first-time parent, tantrums felt like a foreign language I needed to learn. So I became a student of what works and what doesn’t. With our youngest now 4, tantrums are NOT yet a thing of the past, but I can reflect on the discoveries I’ve made for managing through them. It’s amazing how much tantrums have taught me about myself and communicating with all ages!
Mistake #1: Not really listening.
Most of the time, we listen for our turn to talk instead of actually listening to what the other person is communicating. I noticed how true this could be for me, especially when trying to get my kids to go somewhere or do something. When I’m not really tuned in to what my child is saying (because I’m more interested in my agenda), they get frustrated and a meltdown appears – and always at the worst possible time. When I let go of my agenda long enough to also tune into what they aren’t saying, I often realize the underlying issue is really something else altogether (i.e. hunger, fatigue).
Discoveries: Slow down. Ask more questions from a place of true curiosity. Tune into both their words and body language. Validate them by repeating their words back so they feel seen and heard. How often do we just want that in a conversation – for the other person to understand where we’re coming from and what really matters to us?
Mistake #2: Resistance.
When one of my kids is resisting something I’ve said or offered, the last thing on earth that works is resisting their resistance. Digging in my heels and trying to control the outcome of a conversation only makes us both more frustrated.
Discoveries: Recognize when I’m resisting or digging in, and ask myself why. Comfort and sit with them until the tantrum blows over. Then and only then, go over what is/isn’t negotiable and ask for their input on how we get done what needs to be done. This has taught me the importance of consistency, the integrity of my words, and being neutral and loving with my energy even if that means sticking with a house rule or boundary that’s causing upset.
Mistake #3: Making it wrong.
In the beginning, my first instinct was to try and solve the problem. This looked like Mommy jumping through moving hoops, sometimes ablaze with flames. You wanted a cookie, ok, here’s a cookie! Oh you wanted the chocolate one…and so on. Eventually I realized I was only acting out of my own fears and perceived inadequacies. Trying to stop a tantrum is an attempt to stop a child’s emotions. A young child can’t control them, and is easily overwhelmed and disoriented by these strong shadow feelings (i.e. anger, disappointment, jealousy, desire). Thankfully we figured out that tantrums are an entity of their own and a natural part of a child’s developing ego (and before fostering the development of our very own Veruca Salt).
Discoveries: Trying to create a teachable moment before a tantrum has blown over is a waste of effort and only heightens the situation. The best I can do is acknowledge their emotions and help them weather the storm of a tantrum by getting really present and being with them, helping them feel loved and safe – sometimes in the form of containment (saying no, consistently sticking to the rules, helping them to verbalize their feelings). This has taught me that we are each entitled to our feelings; acknowledging and honoring them is the only way to allow the energy of a feeling (or the emotion that’s born from it) to pass through us. ♥
What have you discovered about yourself from dealing with a tantrum? What communication tip shared here will be most helpful to you? Please leave me a comment below.