THE THREE STAGES OF A TANTRUM—AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
From ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths That Will Change The Way You Raise Your Kids
Temper tantrums are the result of extreme feelings in an undeveloped brain and begin around the age two and a half. Underlying reasons for tantrums include hunger, fatigue, illness, and, of course, parent-imposed limits on their behavior. Some children may be especially susceptible to tantrums in response to seemingly mundane things.
In these situations, your job as a parent is quite simple: to remain calm and show compassion. Yes, these experiences can seem downright traumatic, but most of us have been there, and they are 100 percent normal. According to a 2011 study published in the journal Emotion, tantrums have predictable patterns and rhythms. Researchers James A. Green from the University of Connecticut, and Michael Potegal, of the University of Minnesota, used wireless microphones sewn into the clothing of toddlers to record more than a hundred tantrums. They analyzed the sounds made by the toddlers and were able to define three specific phases of a tantrum.
Phase 1: Yelling and Screaming During this phase, a child asserts her will mostly vocally. She will get more hysterical when a parent makes comments, gives explanations, uses logic, or asks questions. Even trying to talk through her feelings at this stage is ineffective.
What can you do? It is helpful for you to stay nearby in the room. The child needs the safety of knowing you are present. Leaving the room can rile her up even more. Remain calm, neutral, available, and loving. See yourself as a compassionate witness and do not talk. In other words: Stop, Drop, Zero Talk. Just sit tight, providing the most loving energy you can muster.
STOP, DROP, ZERO TALK
The very best “first” thing to do when your child is having a tantrum is to:
1. STOP whatever you are doing in that moment, especially if it may be contributing to the child’s stress.
2. DROP to, or below, the child’s level. It’s hard to be helped by someone who is looming over us, and this signals that you are not just present, but you are there for the child.
3. ZERO TALK —Talking to tantruming children does little or no good. In this state, our words, no matter how soothing we might think they are, are often just impediments.
Phase 2: Physical Action During this phase a child may hit, kick, push furniture, or throw toys. If a parent tries to soothe a child by talking to her or touching her, she will typically become more physically aggressive.
What can you do? Stay present! Your job is not to stop the tantrum, but to make sure the child does not feel abandoned and to ensure she does not harm anything or anyone. This may require changing locations or finding a safe location, somewhere neutral—such as a car or a bedroom—where your child can have the time she needs to self-regulate. (When you are in a public place, we suggest cutting your losses. Pay the check, leave the groceries, or politely excuse yourself from the party. Your child is your priority.) Whatever the case, you’ll want to say as little as possible and do as little as possible, while still making sure your child does not do anything to hurt herself, or a sibling, or you.
If the child tries to hurt you, you may need to take her in a bear hug, body facing out. But only do this if absolutely necessary. Stay calm; do not let the tantrum change your behavior. You may say, “I need to keep you safe, and I need to keep me safe.” As soon as the child’s limbs begin to slacken, release her. Always use the least restrictive way to keep your child and yourself safe. It can be painful to be hit by a child. The fight-or-flight part of our brains may want to flee the pain. This is a mistake for two reasons. One, the child may feel abandoned, which will make the situation worse. Two, the child may become scared of her own strength. She may begin to believe she is “bad” or “mean” or “out of control”—which can either be internalized or used against you.
(A child who believes she can scare you or intimidate you holds a powerful weapon. When in need of attention or power and unable to get those needs met, she may use this newfound power just to rile you up.) Better to brace yourself against the pain and stay calm. Some kids hit more than others. But unless we are dealing with more severe, diagnosable problems, the phase always passes. The question is whether your relationship will have been weakened or strengthened by the experience.
Phase 3: The Sadness After the physical stage plays itself out, the next phase begins. A child will feel sad or scared by what just happened. She may cry, whine, or fuss. She has lost her connection with her parent and now she wants to reconnect and be comforted. She is ready to return to the zone.
What can you do? Look for the child to take a few deep breaths between crying. This may be indication that the surge of cortisol is dissipating. Remain physically and emotionally available. Your child could soon use a sensory experience—she may want a hug, or she may want to climb on your lap to cuddle and cry.
EMBRACE THE TANTRUM
There is something to be said for embracing big shows of emotion; after all, sometimes kids just need to get that explosion of feeling out of their systems so everyone can move on. A child who is very tired, for example, will often appear to be on the cusp of a meltdown the closer you get to bedtime. If that’s the case, instead of jumping through hoops to prevent the meltdown, a parent might just allow it to happen. Take deep breaths. Stay in the zone. Treat the tantrum as a natural thing. When it passes, the child’s body will have released itself of its pent-up energy and will be ready to face bedtime in a peaceful way. And don’t worry. You aren’t encouraging or reinforcing tantrums by accepting them. Rather, you model for your child calm self-regulation in the face of stress and make tantrums easier for your child to handle and move past.
Recently, while going through the Parenting From The Heart course, Natalie Kim on Instagram (@realfoodsmom) made this comment about an interaction she had with her son and daughter. It touched our hearts and she gave us permission to share it with you.
“Protect me Mama”
A couple of weeks ago the kids and I were making waffles together for breakfast. We were measuring everything from scratch and I’d decided to double the recipe, so it took us about an hour from start to finish to get the batter done 😅 Atlas was pretty messy so I gave him a couple of Kleenex wet wipes to clean himself, and before I could stop him, he squeezed both wet wipes over the bowl and into the batter 😨 A LOT OF SCENTED LIQUID POURED OUT💧- I PANICKED (also, I was hungry and hadn’t had my coffee) and instead of scooping out some of the “affected batter,” lol, I reacted by giving him a sharp tap on the arm and raising my voice. I hadn’t raised my voice like that in weeks since starting the @parentingfromtheheart class and learning NEW ways of managing “reactions,” (both for myself and the kids). Atlas, of course, started crying and Olive immediately said: “mom, remember what you’re learning in your class!” 🤦🏼♀️
UGH! I felt so mad at myself for just REACTING. I instantly switched gears and said to Atlas: “I’m sorry I hit your arm and got mad, that wasn’t nice, is there something I can do to make it better?” He stopped crying, gave me a hug, and in the sweetest most tiniest voice said: “Protect me Mama.” 😭😭😭— What I interpreted as a “corrective tap” he interpreted as a “loss of connection and trust.” 😖
TEN UNIVERSAL TRUTHS ABOUT CHILDREN (taken from ParentShift pages 14-16)
Being a solidly great parent to your child, in your country, in your culture, in your family allows for endless variety. The limits and freedoms you place on your sons and daughters are determined, in large part, by your experience, values, and circumstances. What’s suits other families may not suit yours. Despite these differences, however, and despite the infinitely varied ways we can become great parents, there are certain universal truths about children’s behavior—truths that apply equally to all children, regardless of their culture, race, religion, environment, or experience. Each of these truths is deeply important and, as you will see, heart-centered parenting is among the few models that both acknowledge and honor these truths.
1. All children have emotional needs.
Have you ever ticked off some of the common culprits of your moody child—Hungry? Tired? Sick?—only to realize that none of them seem to apply? That’s because children don’t just have physical needs; they have emotional needs, as well. These emotional needs are not always easy to distinguish (unless you know what you are looking for—which you soon will!), but they are no less important.
(To learn a little more about the emotional needs watch our video – click here)
2. All children have innate, neurological responses to stress.
When children experience strong emotions, particularly anger or fear, they move into what is sometimes termed “survival brain,” which is associated with the brain’s fight-or-flight response. Brain scans show that when the fight-or-flight mode is activated, children are unable to fully focus, cooperate, consider consequences, or think rationally. When they tantrum, it’s not a choice; it’s their biological reaction to stress. And here’s the kicker: Quite often, when we fly off the handle and impose too-harsh punishments on kids, those are not choices either—but the result of our own survival brains.
3. All children must express their feelings.
Despite our best intentions, most of us, at some point in time, will send messages to our kids that their most intense feelings are unacceptable, invalid, or of little interest to us. Maybe we’re feeling embarrassed that Junior is melting down in public, or we only have ten minutes to get out the door and don’t have time for the whining. Maybe we’re just tired of the drama. Whatever our rationale or excuse in the moment, when we persistently deny our children the right to express their feelings, those feelings turn into negative or unhealthy behavior.
4. All children go through developmental stages.
Children are on a continuous path of physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development. Much has been written about the development of infants into toddlers and toddlers into preschoolers. But what about five-year-olds? Six-year-olds? What are the developmental markers of an eleven-year-old? Many of the things kids do that concern parents are developmentally necessary behaviors, not signs of disrespect or ineffective parenting. When we know what’s normal, we don’t spin our wheels trying to change the unchangeable.
5. All children are born with unique temperaments.
“Temperaments” refer to children’s natural, personal inclinations. A child’s sensitivity to change is generally influenced by temperamental traits, as is his level of cautiousness. Although scientific research into temperaments is still in its infancy, and individual temperaments are famously hard to isolate, we know certain traits are genetic, present at birth, and unchangeable. It’s also important to note that there are no “good” or “bad” temperaments. All temperamental traits are associated with any number of wonderful outcomes—as long as parents recognize these traits for what they are and work with them rather than against them.
6. All children model their primary caregivers.
We are our children’s most important role models, and children learn more by modeling us than from any other teaching method. So much can be gained from understanding just how well our children will mimic us—and how much the things we say to our children are influenced by the things our parents said to us. It’s both poetic and a little scary to consider that the voice we use with our kids—whether it’s overwhelmingly critical, exasperated, encouraging, or supportive— will someday become the voice they use when talking to themselves.
7. All children need opportunities to solve their own problems.
Children learn to be decision-makers by being allowed to make decisions, good and bad—not being told what to do or scolded when they choose the wrong path. As early as toddlerhood, children are capable of helping work out solutions to problems, and each time they do, they gain confidence in their own critical-thinking abilities. While rescuing our children from hardship and potential failure comes easily to many of us—“Your teacher said what to you? You’ve got to be kidding! I’ll have a word with her.”—it tends to produce children who feel they are not equipped to handle the real world on their own.
8. All children need caregivers who honor personal boundaries.
If there was any doubt that children must be taught to set personal boundaries for themselves, the #MeToo movement has shattered it. The violation of boundaries abounds in our society, in large part because our sons and daughters have not been taught to respect the boundaries of themselves and/or of others. And it all begins with us. It is our responsibility to teach children about boundaries by respecting their boundaries—and our own.
9. All children need age-appropriate limits on their behavior.
A great number of family conflicts center on limits. In the controlling parenting style, parents set the rules and children are expected to follow them. When the limits are broken, the parent uses threats or punishment to bring kids back in line. Conversely, in the permissive style, parents treat limits loosely, often setting them only to see them broken time and again. Knowing how to set reasonable, age-appropriate limits, and knowing how to respond when limits are challenged, is a must if parents are to experience consistently close and cooperative relationships with their children.
10. All children move through and between four levels of discouragement in response to unmet needs.
The first truth was that all children have emotional needs. The last one is that when those needs are not met, children act out in a surprisingly methodical way. In response to unmet needs, children move through four levels of challenging behavior: 1) demanding attention, 2) power struggles, 3) displays of revenge, and 4) displays of inadequacy. The most effective parental response depends entirely which level is being experienced.
To order ParentShift – Ten Universal Truths That Will Change The Way You Raise Your Kids
Developmentally, children have the capability to get themselves up in the morning by the time they reach kindergarten. We have coached many parents who are still struggling with getting their children up in the morning, even when their adult child is in college miles away! Now is the time to empower your child!
So if you are the one in charge of waking your child up in the morning prepare to fire yourself from this job. You might ask, “How do I do this?” Start a conversation with your child. If they are still young, present the idea in an exciting tone. Something like, “Now that you are beginning kindergarten, you are old enough to get yourself up in the morning. You are in charge of yourself! We are going to go and pick out a fun and cool alarm clock that you like and that is easy to use. I will teach you how to set your own alarm clock and turn it off when it’s time to get up.”
The local Target and Walmart will have kid’s alarm clocks or you might have a better selection online. Either way, involve your child in the process. Remember, you are empowering him to be in charge of his own life skill.
You might say, “But what about their smart phone or IPad to set the alarm?” This sounds like a good idea, however, technology addiction 101 says to leave all your electronic devices out of your bedroom, especially for children. It’s far too tempting to get back on your phone without your parents watching eyes! Children are much more susceptible to addictions as their brains are growing. They will not be able to self-regulate as well, until the age of 25. These devices are addicting enough for us adults. Please consider delaying getting your child a smart phone or IPad. This is the #1 family conflict in American homes today!
If you have a child that is older and you feel the above conversation doesn’t resonate with you, you may have to start the conversation off by taking the responsibility for the challenge. “You know I have been really bugging you about not getting up in time for school lately and I know this makes you mad at me. I don’t feel good about how the way I am treating you in the morning. I have created this challenge by being in charge of waking you up every morning. Now I realize that wasn’t such a good idea. You are very capable of getting yourself up in the morning and I prevented you from growing in this area. Let’s come up with a plan that puts you in charge of getting yourself up in the morning.”
With this approach you are taking responsibility for the situation and this helps create a solution. You, as the parent need to be prepared to watch him struggle and perhaps even be late for school. This may need to have to happen in order for him to learn how to manage his own time, otherwise he will always depend on others to wake him up in the morning. Self-empowerment is important and a responsible child needs parents who create opportunities for children to become responsible. Live strong and Empower on!
Recently an article came out about the scientific case for bribing your kids. Without going into details, the study was so flawed that it is not worth citing. In the writer’s defense, she did mention that there were over 130 studies on why not to bribe or reward children. More on that later.
So let’s talk about the topic of kids eating healthy and how can we get them to have lasting healthy eating habits. There are many myths passed on from generation to generation. And many parents experience power struggles about eating that damage the natural born intuition kids have about eating. Parents have been known to bribe with desserts if the meal is finished.
First of all, honest to goodness healthy eating is taught by modeling. Have good eating habits and they will transfer to your children in many ways. What children see us eating, our attitudes about food, and how we eat is vital to the guiding they need. Let’s look at some facts about kids healthy eating and habits.
FACTS, JUST THE FACTS!
Fact #1: Dr. Richard Mathis a Pediatric Gastroenterologist and nutritionist says developmentally, children do not get their adult taste buds until about age 11. After age 11 their taste buds open up and they will eat all kinds of food – i.e. Italian and Chinese etc.
Fact #2: Dr. Erik Sternlicht, Nutritionist Ph.D. and Professor at Chapman University in California, tells us that when a child is served a meal, all the foods should be on the plate. A dessert item should be on the plate as well. This way there is no preference given to dessert over other foods. Children will naturally eat bits of everything on their plate. If we dangle the reward of dessert when and if they eat so much other food, then the belief is passed on that dessert food is more important than the other food groups. He says that kid’s bodies intuitively know what they need. We as parents need to trust this process.
Fact #3: Studies show that 50% of kids are considered “picky eaters.” It is such a common trait in children, that it should be considered “normal” behavior to be selective about what they will put in their mouths.
Fact #4: It is evolutionary; young children were made to be finicky eaters for survival reasons. Way back in ancient times, children would be in the field or forest crawling around. If they put something into their mouths and it was a nasty taste they would spit it out as it was likely poisonous to them.
Fact #5: If children are bribed for something they will look for the next bribe or reward as an incentive to other new behaviors. They may even start to become manipulative back to you by using your own tactic and say, “What do I get if I do this or eat that?”
Fact #6: Babies are born intrinsically motivated. If they weren’t they would never learn to sit up, walk, run, or feed ourselves. Children start kindergarten intrinsically motivated to learn. When parents and teachers intervene and introduce bribes and rewards, they interfere with this natural state of learning, motivation and curiosity. In our parenting program, many parents complain that their children are not intrinsically motivated. They are extrinsically motivated. These kids have been brought up with many bribes and rewards during their lives.
Fact #7: Some experts agree that it takes a parent 8-15 times to introduce a new food. The presentation needs to be in a calm, happy and loving way without ever forcing or bribing them.
By the way, since kids like fewer choices of food, they tend to eat the same thing over and over daily in their younger years. Parents may be alarmed, not to worry, they will not turn into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When one of our daughters was 5 years old she came home from school to innocently announce, “Did you know that my friend Nicole eats the same thing for lunch every day?” I said smiling, “She does?” “Hmmm…do you know anyone else who eats the same thing for lunch every day too?” She paused, thought for a minute, laughed and said,” I do!” She hadn’t realized that she also ate the same thing for lunch every day!
Unfortunately, a majority of us were not raised with this style of parenting or good modeling. The old adage of, “Clean your plate,” “No dessert unless you finish your peas,” and “What about the starving children in China?” Can still be seen as the norm growing up in many American families today.
So be easy with your little ones as they enjoy the food they do and one day they will want to eat their yummy spinach and grow up to be strong!
Want to reduce power struggles in your home? Try giving your kids more power.
No, we don’t mean letting them set their own bedtimes (yet) or choosing the furniture for the living room (unless you really like pink couches). We mean the simple things — such as, for instance, letting them order their own food in restaurants.
Next time you are at a sit-down restaurant, allow your children to talk directly to the server. Let them order their own drinks and meals, rather than going through you. Not only will this show your little ones that they are capable of such a task — a huge self-esteem boost for very young children — you also will teach them how to have confidence when asking for what they want from an adult. (So many messages are sent to children not to speak to strangers, so this is a wonderful opportunity for them to connect with adults in a positive way.)
How old can they start? As early as possible. Every child is different — and only you know yours — but most kids are ready to order for themselves by age 3 when given two choices.
One note: If you think your child is not speaking loudly enough when ordering, avoid correcting her to “speak up.” Let the server ask her to repeat her request. This way she will learn on her own to speak louder if necessary and you don’t create undue discomfort or anxiety for her. Plus, you will be surprised how much servers can hear if you keep quiet and let the interaction happen without interference.
Already letting your kid order her own food? Good for you! Now think about other similar areas in your life where you speak for your children when they could be speaking for themselves. This could be RSVPs for parties, buying things at a store, student-teacher conferences, or even making play dates or other appointments.
Give children the opportunity to be capable of “more” and they will show you how capable they really are.