Help! I Can’t Stay Calm During My Child’s Tantrum!

It’s expected for most children to be anything but calm when they’re throwing a fit, but let’s be honest: most times, we’re right there along with them in reaching our emotional peak.

You know the sensations all too well: the moment their voices get whiny and loud, start throwing things, or throw themselves on the floor, your fists clench, your breathing gets faster, your muscles tense. Before you know it, you’ve either shut down or yelled at your kid, and you spend the rest of the day feeling guilty about it.

It’s undeniably tough to see our kids having a meltdown; but it’s even tougher to stay calm and steady throughout the process. Here’s a quick and helpful guide on why tantrums can make parents so reactive and what we can do about it!

Help! I Can't Stay Calm During My Child's Tantrum!

Reasons we get so triggered by our child's tantrums:

The way we've gone about our day makes us prone to reactiveness.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of both us and our kids having bad days. Lack of sleep, sunlight, a decent meal, or even hydration seem minor in the greater scheme of things, but they actually affect our nervous system’s ability to regulate emotions.

As parents, these are inevitable daily struggles – but a quick review of your routine and doing some simple tweaks to meet these needs may already make all the difference.

Tantrums take us back to our childhood wounds.

On a deeper level, tantrums can activate childhood wounds we never realized were there – feeling unheard, misunderstood, and rejected by our own parents as kids. For many of us, these are wounds that were never really recognized or validated, which is why they show up through strong emotional responses when triggered.

These triggers threaten our sense of safety, which is why we feel the need to yell, lash out, shut down, withdraw, or be extremely controlling. It’s our instinctive way of coping.

Practical tips you can try when an unexpected tantrum takes place

Take a six-second pause.

Yep, you read that right – we’re specifically saying six seconds! Modern neuroscientific research indicates that six seconds is what it takes for the human body to absorb emotion chemicals. Six seconds is what stands between us and an emotional reaction we may later regret.

So before you lash out, practice the six-second pause. Spend this time grounding yourself by doing a deep breath (try a 3-second inhale and a 3-second exhale) or distracting yourself by observing three things you see around the room. Then go back and handle the tantrum.

Change or challenge your perspective.

Our tendency as parents is to think that our child is intentionally trying to give us a hard time, which then affects the way we react to them. But for much younger kids in particular, tantrums are usually a sign of dysregulation, which simply means that your kid’s ability to manage or cope with the emotions of the moment is impaired.

Mentally run through his or her day so far and review anything that may have caused the meltdown – oftentimes, it is not always what happens in the moment, but a series of factors occurring throughout the day – a bad nap or lack of sleep, sickness, hunger, a bad day at school.

Ultimately, for these tots, tantrums are developmentally appropriate and expected – so don’t worry, they’re not out to get you! They’re simply having a hard time and need your help figuring things out, whether they need redirection or correction.

Awareness of these things doesn’t mean the tantrum doesn’t happen; but it means you can be more mentally and emotionally prepared to help your child when it does.

Practice co-regulation with your child.

Co-regulation is a parenting approach wherein both parent and child soothe and regain control (or regulate) of both their emotions by expressing them appropriately and learning certain practices that serve as a healthy outlet for these feelings.

What does co-regulation look like? It could be any of these and more:

  • Sitting quietly beside your child and doing some deep breathing as he or she completes the tantrum cycle
  • Verbalizing your emotions for your child to hear, then modeling regulation (“I’m feeling upset right now. I’m going to take some deep breaths.”) and asking your child to do the same
  • Holding your child while he or she is crying and letting them finish
  • Labeling your and your child’s emotions using an Emotion Chart
  • Putting on some calming music and dimming the lights to create a more soothing environment
  • Asking your child to “draw” how he or she feels and doing it right alongside them

Your choice of technique would depend on your child’s temperament and preferences. My 3.5-year-old son, for example, does not like to be held or spoken to when he’s throwing a tantrum. Unless we think his behavior poses a danger to others or himself, we sit quietly beside him and let him cry until he’s done (or if we’re outside, we take him to a quiet spot where he can do so).

We find that if we let him do this, he will approach us for a hug when he’s done and he’s able to clearly articulate how he feels. It also makes him more willing to receive correction, which we do once everyone is calmer – so that he understands and remembers better.

Again, an exception to the rule would be if the tantrum is hurting him or other people. If this is the case, we need to take quick action (whatever keeping them safe means at that moment) and handle the tantrum when our child is in a safer space.

By co-regulating, we create a space to see and to be seen; both parent and child helping each other. In the process, your child learns how to regulate his emotions because he or she has seen how you do it.

Seek help.

If your partner or a trusted adult (someone your child also feels safe with) is present during a tantrum and you don’t feel emotionally equipped to handle it, allow them to step in and take over until you feel more regulated.

And when you no longer feel in control of your emotional reactions, sense a pattern, and feel that you might end up hurting yourself or your child (even unintentionally), there is no shame in seeking out professional help. Not only will these people help you process your own emotions and fears better; but they can also give you tools you can use for the next (inevitable) tantrum.

 

Got any tips to share with fellow parents and guardians when it comes to keeping our emotions in check during tantrums? Let us know in the comments below!

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