“NOOO! I will NOT GO!”
My daughter’s scream sent a fiery jolt of irritation up my spine.
Deep breath (me). More screaming (her).
What do I do now? I thought as I carried her to the car, kicking and screaming. This was the peak of what had been a fast rushing, out of nowhere tantrum in the minutes before leaving the house.
It took all my strength to get her seatbelt buckled. “TAKE ME BACK IN THE HOUSE NOOOOOOOWWWWW!” her shout pierced my eardrums and probably those of the construction workers across the street.
I’m sure they’re all watching (and judging) the idiot mom who can’t control her psycho kid.
The thought flittered through my brain in rapid fire, followed by others such as:
I have no idea what to do. What did I do? What is her problem, we’re going somewhere fun for HER!
Tantrums can leave you feeling utterly defeated.
Like your brand new balloon was stolen, popped and stomped on while you stood helpless watching.
Then all the feels rush in…
- Guilt (I’m a terrible mom, I’m ruining my child)
- Shame (I should have done this better)
- Anger (This kid is going to be the end of me!)
I have good news for you:
There’s actually something you can do to help diffuse tantrums.
Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, authors of The Whole Brain Child, call it first connecting with the right hemisphere of the brain.
What does that mean to us non-doctor people?
Acknowledge their emotions first.
“…at these moments, logic isn’t our primary vehicle for bringing some sort of sanity to the conversation… No matter how nonsensical and frustrating our child’s feelings may seem to us, they’re are real and important to our child. It’s vital that we treat them as such in our response.” ~The Whole Brain Child, by Siegel & Bryson (page 24)
When we affirm our children’s feelings, we address the part of the brain that is flooded with emotions. They start to feel supported, listened to, and understood.
At that point, it’s possible to begin logical “left brain” conversations. The older the kid, the more logical they can be.
But no matter how far you get into the logical side, the best part is that the emotional side starts to calm down.
It really works to diffuse tantrums.
I put this theory to the test soon after reading it.
My daughter wanted to change up the bed-time routine, which we’ve learned in our case really means stalling and then putting up a huge fight about the skipped part of the routine.
We stuck to our “brush and potty, then stories” plan. She started to melt down, body crumbled to the floor, loud wail starting from deep in her core.
Time to test the theory.
Instead of demanding she, “Get up right now and brush your teeth. You’re losing a story!” (which I have done) instead I simply said,
“You really want to read stories before brushing, don’t you?”
“Uh huh,” she sobbed.
“That would be really fun, huh. You really wish we could have our stories now.”
Pause. She lifts her head and says, “yeah.”
“Well, I know you want to, but that’s not the way we do it. So you pick which one you want to do first, brushing teeth or going potty.”
“But I want to read stories.” This was more of a whine than an emotional outburst. She started to get up, not happy but not spooling up in full-fledged tantrum.
Relief poured over me, resulting the exchange of wide-eyed looks between Adam and me as she headed into the bathroom to brush her teeth.
Is it really that simple? I wondered.
That night, it seemed to be. As I’ve implemented the “feelings first” technique, it has worked quickly at times, and more slowly at other times.
But it has always helped.
Tantrums don’t have to leave you feeling utterly defeated. What a relief that there’s actually something you can do to help dissolve the tantrum.
Next time your child starts to melt down, you can pull out this trick like you have a secret super-hero tool to conquer the moment with.
If you try it, be sure to stop by and let me know how it goes, here or on Facebook!
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