How to Manage a Tantrum

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After school, Roozle likes to stay on the school playground for a few minutes before we leave and play with her friends. The parents enjoy this too and usually enjoy a few minutes in between the “Oh wow! Yes! I see that you can do that! Yes you are so big!” and “Yes you are swinging very high on that swing!”s to chat about our kids and school and what we are planning for dinner before trying to convince our kids to leave and head home. At least once a week, one family leaves in the middle of a tantrum. Yesterday, that was us.

There was a little misunderstanding on the swings. We saw it coming but couldn’t stop it. We lost Roozle into The Tantrum Zone.

You know The Zone. The kicking. The flailing. The laying on the ground. Screaming. Tears. There’s no turning back. The only thing to do is go into Tantrum Defense Mode. We all have it. It’s our own little programs for dealing. Some just pick up their kids and leave. Some try to reason with them. Good luck with that one. There’s no reason in The Zone. Some try distraction. Or bribes. I have a four step program. We’ve been using it for months with great success. Disclaimer: This program neither prevents tantrums from happening (though can lessen the impact) nor prevents biting and hitting of parents in the process. On Tuesday I was hit twice in the head and bit once while working with Roozle to manage her tantrum, but we all made it out on the other side.

This is my Tantrum Management Program in four easy steps.

1. Removal: Remove the child from the situation and get them to a safe place for flailing. The car or Roozle’s room are two of my favorites. Warning: Child will immediately turn into a violent, flailing noodle at this point. It will be nearly impossible to hold on to them while avoiding or lessening the blows. You can train for this phase with yoga or with judo. You can use your training in strength and flexibility to both not drop them and avoid direct hits.

2. Raised Voice: Raise your voice and tell them how they are feeling. If they are angry, say it with anger. Try to go to their level. YES YOU ARE ANGRY! YOU ARE SO MAD! MAD! IT WAS YOUR TURN! THAT MAKES YOU MAD! NO ONE IS LISTENING TO YOU! NO ONE IS SHARING! YOU ARE ANGRY! ANGRY! When your friend tells you what a bad day they are having, your first response is never, “But you really shouldn’t yell. You need to be more professional.” No. Unless you’re the worst friend ever. Your first response is to recognize their frustration and acknowledge what is awful about the situation. “OH! That totally sucks! I can’t believe that happened to you!” is a common response. Respect your kid’s feelings the way you would respect a friend’s. Go there with them.

3. Calm Voice: As they start to calm down, you calm down too. This is the time to chat about it or work out any misunderstandings. Yesterday Roozle kept saying that her friend on the swing wasn’t sharing, but he actually was. I was there. I used this time to chat with her about the facts of the situation (carefully so as to not start an argument). This is not the time for Teaching a Lesson. Do the lesson teaching in the non-tantrum time. Maybe before bed. Or first thing in the morning. Or when the waters are calm. Or by storytelling. Not now. Working through the facts, especially with a super verbal kid, is really helpful in getting the child through the processing of what happened. It also can take away the blame and shame of the event that caused the tantrum.

4. Move On: Once the child has processed a bit or indicates that they are calm and done, move on. Do something else. My favorite thing to do in this time is to need something from the child. Yesterday I asked Roozle if she could help me buy spaghetti at the store, that I had too many things to buy and really needed her to carry it. She loved that. When we got out of the car to go to the store, she gave me a big hug and a kiss. She too was glad to be done with the tantrum and the frustration and ready to move on.

What are your favorite techniques for dealing with a tantrum?

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