Friday, November 4, 2011

the best fix i know for tantrums

Burrito has been having more tantrums now that she is getting older.  And initially, I will admit, the sight of my child throwing herself down on the floor in rage intimidated me.  What would I do to tame this tiny hurricane of emotion?  Then I started to learn some things.

(Caveat: If I am tired or not feeling well, I go straight into reactionary mode and sometimes throw all of the suggestions I am going to give you out the window!  I'm human too!) 

First of all, I am learning that her tantrums are just her way to express her emotions.  Feeling angry is not bad; it's just what you do with it.  After all, being a child is difficult.  When I get frustrated with her, I try to empathize with how little control she has over her life.  I try to stoop down and look at the world through her perspective.  She feels frustrated and she doesn't know what to do with that emotion.  She is also self-differentiating from me (as Boundaries with Kids by Cloud and Townsend points out).  It's my job to teach her more resources to use to express her emotions (but this is better done when she is not throwing a fit...can YOU really listen to constructive advice when you're really, really upset?). 

The one training technique I DO use when she is throwing a fit is essentially to acknowledge the emotion and stay calm, but let her know that I'll engage with her again when she's done throwing a fit.  The fit is not going to get her anything, including attention.  I empathize with her feelings and I respect her need to express them, but I don't accept that that is a valid way to interact with Mom.  Also, I've found that if I try to reason with her or desperately try to get her to STOP THROWING A FIT, it will only prolong the fit, because she is getting attention and power out of it. 

You will not believe how well this works!  She stamps her feet, screams and throws herself on the floor.  I say to her, "Are you gonna throw a fit now?  Ok, let me know when you're done!"  Then I stay completely calm and ignore her.  Inevitably, the fit is very, very short and she says, "Ok, I'm done.":-)  It amazes me every time!  She doesn't feel controlled. She doesn't get undue control out of the tantrum.  Her emotions are respected but I am expecting respect for myself too.  She calms down!  It's AMAZING!

In calmer moments, I compliment her for positive expressing of emotion.  Like when I tell her "no" she can't have candy and she says a quiet, "Awww!" instead of launching into a fit.  I tell her that I appreciated she didn't throw a fit and she just expressed her emotions.  (I think it's very important for her to know and understand her emotions, by the way.  This will help her a great deal later in life.  She just needs to learn to express them appropriately, in a way that is respectful to other people.)  I also discuss with her what went wrong when she has a really bad response (like pulling hair, hurting Mom or Dad, throwing something, etc.).  I explain why this is hurtful and unkind and remind her that she wouldn't like this done to her. 

I hope these tips are helpful to you.  You may have to try a few times if you've been interacting with your child's tantrums for a while.  But I bet with some practice you can get some great results with your child as well!

Now, if I could just find as good a fix for whining!


  1. Great advice! Hard to follow, but it does work great when I remember to just walk away. I tend to try to talk the kids out of fits, but I think you're right, ignoring it works better. I know when I get in "a mood" I get over it faster if I can just have some alone time.

  2. Great plan! This is what I've been trying to do with my daughter (trying being the operative word at this point). It's hard with her because she's only 16 months and not really verbal yet, so she doesn't have a lot of other options for expressing her negative emotions - I'm just hoping that as she gets older, that's something we can continue to work on.
    I'm thinking about reading Boundaries with Kids, and noticed that they have a workbook and DVD for a group study - have you looked at them at all? I'd like to hear your thoughts on either the book or the study.

  3. Embers, thanks! I often say, I don't know anything about parenting beyond this age, but I'm getting to be an expert on toddler-hood at least!

    Boundaries with Kids is EXCELLENT. I haven't gone the group study (although I have done the group study for the regular Boundaries and it was outstanding) but the book is one of the best Christian parenting books I have found. I have both received confirmation that I was doing the right thing...and I have learned new things for relating to Burrito. And I have also been challenged to grow in having better boundaries for myself. Very much recommended.

  4. @Dana, you're one of my favorite moms because you are so awesome in the way you relate to your kids, with empathy and understanding and with delight in their unique personalities! Thanks for the comment!

  5. Could you use the same plan for whining that you use for tantrums? "Are you going to whine now? OK, let me know when you are done." Just a thought.

  6. I have been reading Boundaries with Kids. And refer to it often. I love that it really meets you where you are as a parent and as a person of faith and brings the two together in a healthy way. I also better understand my own boudaries.

  7. @Pam...I think what is a little different about whining is that it is kind of subtle. A tantrum is involves yelling, throwing oneself on the floor, stomping feet, etc. Whining may be asking for something again and again and again...and again...

  8. @Lucinda, I agree about Boundaries with Kids! It's a really, really helpful book! I've been disappointed with a lot of Christian parenting books, but this one is really worth buying!


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