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the mommyhood memos: in the midst of the storm: 7 methods of coping with tantrums

Friday, March 25, 2011

in the midst of the storm: 7 methods of coping with tantrums

We try to avoid. We try to avert. We try to redirect. But sometimes… the storm just hits anyway. Toddler tantrums can be a doozy. Here are seven ways of surviving a meltdown:

1.     Distract. The art of distraction is the secret weapon that all parents quickly learn is worth honing and perfecting! If your child is right on the verge of a tantrum but hasn’t quite crossed over yet (or maybe even in the beginning stages of one) a swift swoop to pick her up and give her a change of scenery is invaluable. Head to the window, turn on some music, pretend to be looking for something under the couch, or open the fridge and ask for help finding the apples. Use your imagination and send her tantrum back where it came from.

2.     Ignore. Many tantrums escalate when you “entertain” them and diffuse when you ignore them. If your child is getting physical (throwing his head back, arching his back, hitting, kicking, or pushing away from you) then put him down on the floor in a safe place and either walk away or simply turn your back until he settles down. Levi went through several weeks of this and I would leave the room saying, “I’ll be in the kitchen (or living room, etc.). Come join me when you settle down.” No exaggeration, he would come chattering away down the hall as happy as a clam one or two minutes later with no recollection of what his fit was about. Since that period, he’s rarely had the same type/severity of tantrums again. (I realize there is no guarantee that they won't recur with that same type of fury, but I do believe it shows he's learning!)

3.     Restrain. I’m told that if you find that putting your child on the floor to carry on while you walk away doesn’t work, then you can try restraining her. Gently but firmly place your arms around her or your hands on her shoulders. Quietly and calmly speak reassuring words into her ears until she settles down. (I’ve not used this method myself, but again, you have to find what works best for your child.)

4.     Refrain. You are the adult… so be mature and refrain from “tantruming” back. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to whine back at Levi or to match his fit with one of my own… but we need to remember who the adult is and act like it! Stay calm, keep your volume level, maintain a kind, respectful and firm tone, and always remain in control of your emotions. Never react with violence or anger and remember that you’re modeling to your child the way you’d like him to eventually respond to difficulty or conflict.

5.     Reason. If a child is already in full tantrum mode, remember that she has lost the ability to listen to reason. This is normal. Don’t become frustrated that she won’t listen to an instruction that she would normally respond well to. Leave your reasoning to before and after tantrums, not during. (This can help minimize your own frustration as well!)

6.     Remove. If a child reaches a full meltdown in public, resist the urge to coax them to behave (by giving a toy/treat/etc), and instead remove him to a more private/appropriate place (such as your car or a mothers room) and deal with the tantrum immediately. Your groceries can wait. This is the most loving thing you can do for your child as well as the most considerate thing you can do for other customers. Although it is not a “quick fix” (like giving in to his demand or shoving a cookie into his mouth), no doubt it will serve you much better in the long run.

7.     Breathe. It’s so important to know your own limits so that you don’t end up doing something you’ll regret later. When you get really frustrated, take a deep breath, make sure your child is in a safe, age-appropriate place (such as her crib/playpen or her room if it's completely child-proofed), and then go sit on your front steps for a few minutes, take a walk around the yard or to your mailbox, have a brief shower, get a drink of water, or call someone for a quick word of reassurance or encouragement. Breathe deeply, concentrate on getting your heart rate down, and then go back and attend to your child as needed. (Although it's normal to experience this from time-to-time, if this is a reoccurring problem then you should definitely consider seeking professional help.)

This post is part of a four part series:
3.  In the midst of the storm: 7 methods of coping with tantrums
4.  The aftermath of the storm: 9 do’s and don’ts of post-tantrum follow-up 

Dear friends, I hope these tips have been helpful. I’m certainly still in the thick of tantrum territory and, no doubt, still have much to learn. Do you have anything to add to the coping methods above?? I’d love to hear your experience and suggestions!

perfecting my own art of distraction,

adriel booker | the mommyhood memos | 2011 
do not reproduce without written permission

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At March 25, 2011 at 4:53 PM , Blogger Colleen said...

Thank you SO much for these posts. I honestly think I may print them out and refer to them, perhaps not in the midst of a melt down but you know, study them a bit.:)

I always thought I was just full of patience until I became a mom. *shakes head.:)

At March 25, 2011 at 9:29 PM , Blogger Kerry McCullough said...

You know, the restraining one might be perfect for grocery stores and other public places that I really struggle with-- I hadn't thought about that one before, but going to a corner and giving him a big bear hug from behind and telling him we need to get calm again is probably my best bet with the way he throws his head back and sprawls out across the floor. Thanks for the tips!

At March 25, 2011 at 11:16 PM , Blogger cooperl788 said...

You really hit all the major points with this post! I usually find that removing her (or me) from the area calms us both down very quickly. You mentioned it in several parts, but I really like it so it's worth repeating - keep your voice low and authoratative! It's amazing how much calmer Georgia becomes when I make sure to lower my own voice. Nothing gets solved when you try to talk over the screaming, but when I lower my voice, she often times will stop screaming so she can try to hear what I'm saying. Great job today!

At March 26, 2011 at 2:56 AM , Blogger flyrish said...

Great series and great reminders on how to deal with the madness! Q's version of a tantrum is laying on the floor and screaming "Up!" as if he can't get up himself. So far this has only happened at home and hasn't been too bad (I hope I didn't just jinx myself).

At March 26, 2011 at 4:05 AM , Blogger Courtney K. said...

The distract and ignore mothods work best for us. As long as we can get the little guy thinking about something else, he's good to go. And when we don't pay him attention, he goes on to something new. Loving this series!


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