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.
At fourteen she lived with her boyfriend. At twenty-four she starred in Girl, Interrupted, in a role that closely mirrored her own addicted, mentally unstable persona. The next few years brought an incestuous kiss, a nervous breakdown and that infamous vial of blood.
At the time, no one could have predicted that Angelina Jolie would become one of the most revered mothers in Hollywood, matron to a cosmopolitan brood of well-travelled, well-educated children whose budding social consciences so clearly mirror her own.
In connection with our newest course, Tiny Habits for Moms, we’re examining the lives of extraordinary women and mothers to discover how they do what they do, and how we can tap into their most successful strategies.
Write Your Own Script
At first glance, following in Jolie’s footsteps may seem unrealistic. After all, how many of us have homes on multiple continents, a bevy of nannies and tutors, and a net worth in the hundred millions?
Jolie herself has spoken out about the privileges she enjoys as a celebrity mother. However, her daily routine also includes sticker charts, bedtime stories and those elusive few moments alone in the shower that we all look forward to. And her rocky past is evidence that this star’s life has not been all starring roles and handsome husband. If there’s anything we can learn from this amazing mom, it’s how to learn from your past, but not allow it to define your future.
Look Beyond Yourself
Jolie accompanied her mother to her first Amnesty International dinner at nine years old. When her work as an actress took her to high-conflict areas, she was deeply impacted by the tragedy she saw there. In the past 15 years she has served as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and as an advocate for refugees around the world.
Instead of shielding her children from the harsh reality of her humanitarian work, she makes it a priority to include them. “My children have been to post-conflict situations and they’ve been to refugee camps with me…when I go on U.N. missions, I always sit down with them and explain to them why I’m going,” she said in a Popcorn Biz interview. In fact, her 14-year-old son Maddox will help to research the history of conflict in his birth country, Cambodia, for her upcoming Netflix film First They Killed My Father.
You don’t have to travel the world to raise compassionate children who care about important causes. Make a habit of discussing current events with your children over dinner, and look for ways that they can make a difference right in your own community.
Don’t Let Work Get In the Way
Coming Home was a defining film in John Voight’s career, but it’s one Jolie will never see. “Because that was when my father left my mom, and the woman who he cheated on her with is in the film,” she shared in Vogue magazine. She and Pitt are determined that their on-screen lives will never take a similar toll on their own relationship.
Surprisingly, the film that has most challenged their marriage is one that they starred in together. By the Sea, which Jolie also directed, depicts the unraveling of a marriage in the wake of a trauma. On set the pair played the couple in crisis. “We had to be able to really get ugly,” she shared in Wall Street Journal Magazine. “It was not easy. We just had to be brave and say, ‘OK, honey, we’re strong enough to do this; let’s somehow use this to make us stronger.’ ”
Instead of bringing the stress of work home with them, they allowed their home life to pull them out of their dysfunctional roles and back into the strength of their own union. “As soon as we got home, it was bedtime stories, children’s needs and problems, the fights they’d had during the day. We had to immediately snap back to something that was uniting and positive and loving,” she says.
Most couples do not spend their days mimicking a dying relationship. However, work and home stresses can interfere with any couple’s ability to connect at the end of the day. Like the Jolie-Pitts, couples must choose to reunite each day and focus on each other and their family, rather than their individual concerns. Try the following habits to keep your relationship strong:
Make Time and Just Listen
Growing up, Jolie had a close relationship with her mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, but otherwise felt isolated. Her relationship with her father vacillated between tense, explosive and nonexistent.
In contrast, the Jolie-Pitt family seems to be everything Jolie’s was not – large, warm and supportive. “I suppose I’m giving them the childhood I always wished I had,” she says in Vanity Fair. Though they have plenty of help, she and Pitt remain very involved in their kids’ lives.
Before By the Sea, they took turns working on projects so one parent was always home with the children. Even when she’s busy, she plans magical family outings. “When Angie has a day off, the first thing she does is get up and take the kids out,” says Pitt in WSJ. “This is the most important ‘to do’ of the day. She has an incredible knack for inventing crazy experiences for them.”
Jolie also schedules individual time with each child, and anticipates stepping back from acting to be more available as they become teenagers. “Maybe in the next few years I’ll finish being in front of the camera,” she told Vogue. “I’ll be happier behind it. I’m happy to be home. I want to really focus on my children, doing the best I can to guide and protect them before they are out of the house. These are their most important years.”
Perhaps reflecting on her own tumultuous teenage years, she’s already considering how she’ll navigate her own children’s adolescence. “I had some great advice: ‘You’ll know they’re teenagers when they close the door,’” she shared in a Vanity Fair interview. “And when they start closing the door, don’t talk to them, listen. Because there’s nothing you could say. You’re not going to be able to tell them you know better. You’re not going to be able to correct them. You have to raise them right before that.”
Every parent is aware that childhood is fleeting, but it can be difficult to connect regularly amid the chaos of school drop-offs, music lessons, sports and homework. Set the stage for meaningful interactions by removing distractions and building opportunities to connect into your daily routine.
If there’s anything we can learn from Jolie’s journey, it is that life is, in fact, a journey. From Girl, Interrupted to By the Sea, Jolie has never allowed herself to be defined or limited by a role or by who the public perceived her to be.
As mothers, we too can choose the manner in which we will allow our upbringing and our own past to influence our present.
Are you ready to write a new plot for yourself and your family? Join us in the next session of Tiny Habits for Moms to learn how to transform your days and your life.
For a sneak-peek at how the Tiny Habits method works for moms, tune in to my interview on the Power of Moms podcast.
For more Tiny Tips, click here.