Got Tantrums? Read on…


Part 1: Tantrums are a reality: Embrace them

(The following ramblings on toddler tantrums are based solely on observational and anecdotal data gathered over the last 21 years. No scientific studies support my claims. But still.)

I’m always amazed at the number of young moms who talk to me with such surprise, guilt, and angst about their child’s emotional unwindings. Why? Has there ever been a child who has progressed from infancy to kindergarten without losing control of their emotions? No. It’s simply part of the process from baby to adult. Kids also don’t walk without crawling first and yet no one frets over their 6-month old’s inability to walk yet.

I think the difference is we KNOW that crawling is part of the process that leads to walking and so we can actually encourage them in their crawling– guilt free. Angst free. If we need the baby to walk and they aren’t ready yet, we make accommodations with strollers and carriers and carrying. We don’t punish them and look embarrassed that some 10 months old are walking already. No, we simply hold them in our arms a little longer, and we wait.

I hear you. A screaming, kicking, pasta-throwing two-year old is a bit more challenging on the blood pressure levels than a giggling crawler. But what if we shifted our perceptions? What if a child’s fit caused us to think, “I see you’re having some trouble managing this situation. Let me help you.”

Understand WHO is throwing the tantrum

Before you can help them, you must recognize that ALL children throw fits, but some children will throw more fits than others. In God’s infinite wisdom, he has designed some kids with more energy, more opinions, and more passion than other kids. In my talks, I refer to these kids as Level Four Kids. The trifecta of high energy, strong opinions, and innate passion inevitably leads to more frustration in these kids’ lives. They know exactly what they want at almost every moment so they are much more likely to become frustrated when life doesn’t go their way. They have more energy and passion so their emotional outbursts can last much longer and with a much higher intensity than Level One, Two, and Three Kids.

Because they have strong convictions that their opinions are the right opinions, Level Four Kids have an inability to be talked out of their frustrations with logic and reason. They are right—if only in their own minds. They think: “It IS fun to stick things in electrical sockets. Why are you telling me to stop? It’s not dangerous. Not the way I do it. I’m not breaking anything. What’s your problem, MOM! Now get out of my way so I can show you I’m right.”

Now if you tell a Level One toddler to stop playing with the electrical outlet, they will never go near it again. They think: “Thanks mom. I want you to be happy and besides, I didn’t really want to play near those anyway. How about if I don’t even get close to them so there’s no confusion about my intentions?”

Recognize your child’s innate temperament and never compare your Level Four child to a Level One and wonder what you are doing wrong. Understanding their unique design will allow you to better help them through their emotional low points. A Level Four WILL have many more fits than a Level One over their younger years, but that doesn’t mean that YOU have to.

Keep in mind a few thoughts about Level Fours:

  • They think that whatever opinion they have is right. You want them to learn to understand authority and who is in charge, but you actually should embrace their strong convictions. “Winning” is NOT convincing them they are wrong but helping them see who is in charge.
  • So don’t try to reason with this child. They ARE right in their minds. Reasoning only lengthens and often heightens the experience. You become the enemy rather than the one helping them get back in control of their emotions and better understand authority. Giving advice and insight is for life after the fit is over.
  • Acknowledge whatever the Level Four is wanting/experiencing so they feel heard. “I know you wanted to stay longer. It’s hard to leave fun places,” rather than explaining why it’s time to leave.
  • Give them large boundaries and strong walls. If they come up against a “wall,” speak with strength and conviction about the boundary. If they can’t be in charge, they want to be sure that someone strong is in control. Being wishy-washy makes them want to grab control back.
  • Try to not micro-manage this child. You buy the clothes; they choose the outfits from a drawer you have filled. You prepare the food; they decide what they eat. You show them the toilet; they decide what to put in it.
  • Avoid threats and bribes for behavior. This kid does what he does from an internal sense of right and wrong so motivate rather than manipulate. Just state the consequence matter of factly rather than wielding the threat. It solidifies for them that the person in authority has lots of power too. “I asked you to stop throwing food so you are now done with dinner.”
  • Keep your own emotions regulated. It helps you appear more like a strong, confident leader. If you yell and make angry threats, you appear less in control of the situation than if you remained calm and strong. If you are out of control, it becomes harder to trust your leadership.
  • DO NOT give this child an ultimatum. If you tell a Level Four to “not cross this line,” well…now they HAVE to cross the line because they need to be sure you know that YOU are not the boss of them. And you are not. They are the boss of themselves and you are the boss of the home.
  • So avoid the ultimatum as well as the demand for them do something you can’t MAKE them do. If you tell your Level Four to “stop crying right now!” you have just handed them ALL the power in the situation since you can’t make them stop. Rather a calm, ”Honey, if you can’t stop crying I’ll need to bring you out to the car to settle down,” keeps you in charge.

Once you understand how your child’s temperaments relates to tantrums, you are ready to focus on the nuances of four specific types of emotional breakdowns. (See Blogs: Tantrum #1 ”I’m tired/hungry/uncomfortable”, Tantrum #2 “I don’t want to” Tantrum #3 “I was wronged” Tantrum #4 “Neither of us knows why I’m crying”)

Got Tantrums? Read on…

Speak Your Mind