One of the great myths that we have around a tantrum is that it is BAD BEHAVIOR. We think that this is something that we have to fix because if we don't do it we are bad parents or educators and our children will grow up rebellious and rude.
In reality, tantrums are a NORMAL CHILD DEVELOPMENT BEHAVIOR.
Remember that they are a form of communication that allows children to express their emotions in situations that cause anger, sadness or frustration. Tantrums are expected between 2 and 5 years approximately.
Now that we understand that it is something HEALTHY and EXPECTED in children, is there something that we as adults can do when these episodes of anger and frustration happen?
Yes of course. The first thing we can do is always keep this in mind:
- Keep in mind that our task is simply to accompany the emotion. Do not try to distract it, to anesthetize it or to calm it. Avoid invalidating the emotion by saying phrases such as “You are ok. Nothing happened,” “stop crying,” “calm down, now.”
- Let's try to be empathetic to their discomfort, knowing that the tantrum will come to an end. It will last as long as it has to last, long enough for the child to need to express how bad they feel.
- Let us understand that the child is acting based on a developmental need and that he or she is not doing it on purpose or in order to manipulate or challenge his or her caregiver or educator. Having a tantrum is also not a pleasant experience for him or her.
- Let's see this moment as a learning opportunity rather than simply perceiving it as a challenge. If we see the tantrum as the opportunity for our children to learn to identify their emotions and those situations that generate a lack of control, we will be able to remain more calm and safe.
Is there anything else we can do?
There are always specific things we can do to regulate a tantrum and to be able to accompany it in the most respectful way possible:
- Keep calm and breathe deeply since our tranquility will be what helps our children to calm down. We will be the "emotional mirror" that their developing brains need.<
- Put into words what is happening to them. Verbally say what is happening or just happened to empathize with them. This will help them to understand what they are experiencing. For example: You can say "You are angry because your sister took your toy," "I know it must be very difficult for you." In this way we also validate the emotion and our children feel heard and valued.
- Name his or her emotion. This will allow the child to really understand HOW he or she feels. You can simply say a phrase like “What you feel is called anger,” so the child will know what anger feels like and can express it more assertively in the future (with a lot of prior practice.)
- If the child allows it, we can offer hugs. Not all children are open to being touched at that time, so it's always a good idea to ask him or her first.
- Don't give long or logical explanations. The shorter phrases the better. The brain is in "emotional" mode, what is known as "tonsillar sequestration" occurs, which means that the brain largely loses its ability to reason. You will have time (once the tantrum is over) to be able to reflect on what happened.
Remember: Tantrums are a passing thing in child development and they are GOOD because this means that the child is defending his or her own ideas and feelings. And let us always bear in mind that our main mission as parents and educators is to be the regulatory model that our children need.
«Love me when I least deserve it because it will be when I need it most»
Written by Claudia Soruco