I have a confession: I used to love seeing kids have tantrums. Every time I passed a toddler thrashing on the grocery store floor or saw a red-faced kid screaming at the playground, a part of me breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness, I thought. Other people’s kids do this, too.
We’ve all chuckled over the “Reasons My Son is Crying” blog or a friend’s tale of their own tot’s tantrum, because it’s so reassuring to see just how normal these outbursts are, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to handle when they come from our own kids.
In our last post, Tiny Habits Academy director Linda Fogg-Phillips detailed strategies for helping parents to keep their cool when a kid is blowing up, but kids need help learning to negotiate their own big feelings as well. She mentioned my son, Gavin, and my goal to help him (and myself) to learn to deal with frustration without throwing a fit. In the Tiny Habits for Moms course, I learned some great strategies that have helped me and both my kids to develop emotional resilience and put irritations in perspective.
1. Meet Primary Needs
Linda reminded us that people who are hungry, thirsty or tired have trouble keeping their emotions in check, and that goes double for children. I’ve learned that the combination of after-school hunger and homework makes it hard for Gavin to push through the afternoon without drama. Now I set him up for success by making sure he is getting enough rest, and that his blood sugar stays stable throughout the day.
Sample Habit: After my child sits down to work on his homework, I will give him a healthy snack and a glass of water.
2. Join Their Team
My friend Amanda’s son is a lot like Gavin, and she has said that sometimes she feels like she’s his emotional punching bag. Kids come to us with their frustrations because they want our help, but sometimes their efforts at getting it are clumsy and even downright abusive.
When one of Tiny Habits for Moms coach Brittany Herlean’s three boys becomes frustrated and starts taking his feelings out on her, she reminds him that she is not the enemy, and that she is on his side. Then she helps him redirect his focus by identifying the real problem, and helping him to find a solution.
Sample Habit: When my child yells at me, I will remind him that I am on his side.
3. Identify Tantrum Triggers
To deal with tantrums, outbursts and general moodiness, try to identify the root of the problem. It might not be as obvious as you think. Some are predictable; you know that these circumstances often challenge your kid. Common triggers include:
These triggers are pretty immediate, but some are much subtler. If a kid’s fit seems way out of proportion or just doesn’t make sense, step back and look at what’s going on in the rest of her life. Like hunger and thirst, feeling out of control or neglected can give kids a hair trigger. So can trouble with friends or stress at school, which may sap your kids emotional resilience and manifest in general snappishness.
Deal with the bad behavior, but follow up with a heart-to-heart once things have calmed down to see if your child is struggling with something unknown. Find ways to give your child more of whatever they need (like autonomy or affection) once the conflict is over, or help them to find solutions to the problems that are causing stress.
Sample Habit: After my child has a tantrum, I will snuggle her in the rocking chair.
Sample Habit: After my child pulls out her homework, I will help her outline a study plan for her test.
4. Help Them to Self-Soothe
Over the years I’ve tried a number of strategies to help my son Gavin deal with his mercurial temperament. Yoga didn’t help; a meditation app did. Counting to ten makes him angrier. Folding origami is magical. I spoke to some of the moms from my Tiny Habits for Moms group, and together we amassed a list of ideas that have worked for us. Try a few for yourself and see what happens.
When I feel like hitting, I will stomp my feet.
When I get suck on a homework problem I will tell myself, “I can do this.”
5. Think Like a Scientist
Being a mom is a lot like being a scientist. Your child is an unknown element, and it takes some experimenting to learn what causes a reaction, and how to prevent one. As they get older, their triggers and strategies will change, and so will yours. Finding the right recipes can take time, but remember, you’re also teaching your children to be more aware of their emotions and more able to act on them in a healthy and socially acceptable way, and that lesson will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Tantrums are just one of the challenges moms face every day. To learn how the Tiny Habits method can help you to deal with everything from the dinner dishes to your relationship with your spouse, join our next session of Tiny Habits for Moms.
Jen Lee is not a Buddhist, but she’s always been pretty Zen. “Growing up, I was really even-keel. My mom called me her ‘little ray of sunshine.’ I was really calm and patient – or so I thought. Then I had kids.”
Her first child, Gavin, inherited her sunny disposition, scattered with frequent, unpredictable mega storms. “We call him our little volcano,” Lee says. “Something would happen, and he’d just blow. For the first few years, it was really hard for me to know what to do with him. After a while, I was blowing my top, too.”
Many mothers are blindsided by the way parenting can try one’s patience. I know I was. But after raising eight kids, I’ve learned a few things. In the Tiny Habits for Moms course I help moms like Jen to deal with the challenges of parenting in a way that is proactive instead of reactive and intentional instead of impulsive. Here’s a sneak peek at how you can use the Tiny Habits method to maintain your sanity and be the mom you want to be.
1. Pinpoint Your Triggers
Think back to a time when you’ve really lost your cool with your child. What was the spark that ignited the explosion? It’s not enough to recognize that sometimes your kids make you angry. To solve the problem, you need to identify the specific triggers.
For many parents, it’s defiance. Even when a parent teaches their child respectful behavior, sometimes they’re going to say no or blatantly go against you. Other common triggers include:
· Slamming doors
· Breaking rules
Often, it’s a kid’s tantrum that leads a parent to snap. However, when your child is out of control, it’s especially important that you model healthy ways of dealing with strong feelings. Freaking out at a kid who is freaking out is akin to hitting a child because he hit someone else; you’re only reinforcing that it’s an acceptable way to deal with a problem. Instead, use the moment as an opportunity to teach your child more acceptable strategies for dealing with anger and frustration.
2. Take Preventative Measures
First, recognize that people of all ages have trouble regulating their emotions when they are hungry, tired or stressed out. If you know you have a tendency to get “hangry,” create habits that head off a bad mood before it begins.
Sample Habit: After I pick up my purse in the morning, I will put a healthy snack inside.
If you get cranky when you’re tired, make a habit of going to bed a bit earlier, or structure your evening to minimize opportunities for conflict.
Sample Habit: After one episode of my favorite show ends, I will turn off the television (and go to bed!)
Feeling stressed out or angry at a coworker, friend or spouse? Don’t take it out on your kid. Take a few minutes to meditate, write in a journal, vent to a friend or go for a run.
Sample Habit: After I put on my pajamas, I will sit on the edge of my bed and open my journal. (Tip: Keep your journal on your nightstand with a pen.)
3. Just Breathe
Even when you’re well rested, you need a strategy for dealing with moments of conflict. As children, many of us were advised to count to 10 when angry. This is good advice, as it curbs impulsive reactions and forces us to think. However, a better strategy is to take a few deep breaths.
“Deep breathing counteracts the fight or flight stress reaction that underlies anger. Deliberately taking a slow, deep breath not only brings a soothing sense of relaxation, but also helps us to focus our attention in the present moment,” says Dr. Dan Johnson of the Mercer University School of Medicine.
I’m currently working with a well-known research hospital to reduce the stress experienced by emergency room nurses. As part of my work with them we conducted several four-week Tiny Habits for Resilience courses along with a study on the impact that specific Tiny Habits have on reducing stress in the workplace. We found that one of the behaviors that was most effective in reducing stress was taking a few deep breaths at key moments throughout the day. Moms can benefit from using this technique to reduce their stress as well.
Sample Habit: After my child says “No”, I will take three deep breaths.
4. Give Mom a Time-Out
Kids aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a time-out. If you need to, it’s ok to leave a child in a crib or somewhere else safe while you collect your thoughts and plan a proactive response. And particularly with older kids, consequences don’t need to be immediate to be effective. It’s better to say, “This is a big deal. I need to think about this and we’ll talk about it later,” than to throw out an overly harsh, knee-jerk punishment that you’ll have trouble following through with. (Are you REALLY going to ground them until they’re 40?)
Sample Habit: After my child throws something, we will both take a time-out.
5. Focus on the Person, Not the Problem
One of the most important strategies is to refocus on the person, not the problem. Shortly after my daughter Brittany was diagnosed with leukemia, I saw a mother yelling at her daughter in the grocery store, just screaming at her. I couldn’t help myself. I walked up and said, “I know that this is none of my business, but my daughter is in the hospital with leukemia and I don’t know if she’s going to live. You need to appreciate your child and not take this moment for granted.”
This doesn’t mean letting your child off the hook for bad behavior. It simply means that you don’t allow the problem to become more important than your relationship with your child. Shift your focus from how angry you feel to how you can use this challenge to help this person you love to learn and grow into the person you know they can be.
Sample Habit: When my teenager rolls her eyes, I will tell her I love her.
Tiny Habits, Big Results
Focusing on the big picture when we’re emotional can be hard. I have eight kids and my youngest is 17, and there are so many times that I regret how I responded to my children and I wish I could go back and respond with more patience and kindness and love. In Tiny Habits for Moms I am able to share the secrets of the Tiny Habits Method with moms from around the world and help them to be able to be proactive in their discipline and intentional in how they interact with their children.
For Jennifer Lee, the Tiny Habits method is working. She’s learned that keeping a gratitude journal and taking a time-out help her to stay calm, and her newfound peace is rubbing off on her son as well. To hear how Gavin is learning to manage his own emotions, and how you can tame tantrums in your own kids, check out our next blog post.