Ahhh. Almost fifteen months of pure bliss. Nothing but slobbery kisses, sweet coos, and milky- mouthed smiles. And then, it hit us out of nowhere;
My baby just threw a tantrum.
I remember with my first child, the first tantrum caused me substantial inner turmoil. I felt ashamed, like I was a failure as a parent. For so long in our society, tantrums have been viewed in such negative light by well- meaning parents. It is hard to break that cycle! I am embarrassed to admit this, but my first thoughts were “I have spoiled my child!” This inner battle continued for far too long. The tantrums increased in size and frequency, and it was a never- ending ever- draining emotional cycle. I knew I had to do better by my child and try something different.
“Tantrums are a necessary component of emotional development”
I want to offer you the advice I received that gave me great peace of mind. Tantrums are NOT the result of “spoiling” your child. Tantrums are a necessary component of emotional development. When your child begins to spiral, they are in great need of assistance to regulate their emotions. They are LOOKING FOR YOUR HELP. Toddlers brains are very impulsive, they are not trying to be naughty.
I don’t call them tantrums anymore… I call these episodes what they actually are, ‘Temporary Disregulation.”
Instead of time- outs and flustered dashes out of stores and restaurants, I decided to turn my full concern and attention towards my child. Within a week, tantrums lessened. A month, nearly eliminated. A year later, with much practice, my eldest practices his “circle breaths” without being asked when he begins to feel overwhelmed.
I don’t call them tantrums anymore. I have found that by changing what my own preconceived notions were, I am more easily able to change my response to my children. I call these episodes what they actually are, ‘Temporary Disregulation.”
As soon as we began patting ourselves on our backs for our son’s incredible emotional advancements, round two with our daughter started kicking in. I can happily share that she is greatly benefiting from our regulation assistance already!
Where do I start?
- I highly suggest working on yourself, first. Ask yourself these questions;
- How do I feel when I am overwhelmed/ dis-regulated?
- How do I soothe myself in these times?
- Do I even have a method to self- soothe?
- Take precautions to avoid your child becoming disregulated in the first place. Of course, we lead busy lives and we can’t guarantee everyone in our family is operating at 100% all of the time, but it is helpful to keep these things in mind. Ask yourself if your child is;
- Under/ over stimulated?
- Once an episode starts, check in with yourself. I like to make a mental note “My child is not being naughty, my child is experiencing emotional disregulation and needs my help to show them how to get through this” This helps me get in the right frame of mind. This step will take less time and become your automatic response over time.
- “Speak” to your child’s amygdala. “What the heck is an amygdala?!” The amygdala is the “flight or fight “portion of the human brain. Whenever we become overwhelmed or dis-regulated, we are primarily using the amygdala, when we really need to be getting back into using our pre-frontal cortex. We can speak to the amygdala by offering our child immediate simple safety. This can be a hug, cuddle, or repeating “This is hard, and I am here for you.” This may not work at first, but with time you will find what works for your child and it will get easier. Give yourself grace, and stay calm.
- Once your child is calming down, use some grounding techniques they can implement on their own over time. This is how we get our child to start calming down and get them back into their prefrontal cortex. It is helpful to begin practicing these techniques when your child is in a stable mood, that way they are pros before they need to use them. Grounding techniques can look like many things! Here are a few ideas;
- Initiate a color search. This sounds like “Can you find something green. Good! Now find two blue things!” and so on and so forth.
- Involve their senses. Ask them to identify what they can smell, what they can feel, what they are looking at, etc.
- Grab an item that is soothing to the child.
- Circle breaths! My son’s personal favorite. We introduced this concept by asking him to sniff an imaginary cup of hot cocoa, and then blow off all of the imaginary steam. He really took to this idea.
- When the tantrum is over, go on with business as usual. Sometimes, when something upsetting happens, it can be hard to move on. By not behaving any differently after a tantrum, it teaches our child two things. 1.) They will not receive any extra-special attention post tantrum, in case you are concerned about it becoming routine. 2.) Most importantly, it teaches your child to move through the hard things.
I hope that these methods help you and your family. Above all, I want to let you know that it is NEVER TOO LATE to change. Don’t be hard on yourself if you are like me, and possess guilt over the previous choices we made as parents. The best time to start is NOW, and there is no point in dwelling on the past. Apologize to your child, if you’d like, and try to move on.