4 Tips for Practicing Patience Through Tantrums

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Image via Katie Hurley

Every parent has a tipping point.  It might be a certain time of day, like during that ten-minute window of time where you will probably late for school or miss the bus if shoes aren’t on and tied immediately.  It might be when you’re trying to cook dinner, clean the dishes, and supervise homework while keeping the toddler entertained.  Or maybe it comes on the heels of asking your child to pick up his toys for tenth time that afternoon.  Every parent has a tipping point.

Tantrums are a child’s way of saying, “Help! I can’t handle this!”  Give them the help that they need, and you’ll find that the tantrums will begin to fade away.

But so does every child.  When children reach their tipping points and come unglued, it manifests as a tantrum (or “meltdown” for older children).  They scream, they cry, the flail their arms, they say all of the wrong things, and they might even throw a toy or two.  Tantrums differ from child to child, and some kids are far more emotionally intense than others.

Regardless of what the tantrum looks like, it can be very difficult for parents to endure.  Whether it occurs in the home or in a public space really doesn’t matter; when emotions are high parents react.  How you react in those tense (and somewhat exhausting) moments is very important.

Yelling back doesn’t work and often intensifies the tantrum.  Walking away and leaving a child alone with his overwhelming feelings can leave him feeling scared and abandoned.  If we want our children to learn to cope with and work through these intense emotions in a more adaptive manner, it’s up to us to guide them through it.

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Children are their own worst critics.  They tend to rely on negative self-talk during tantrums.  Once that negative thought cycle begins, it can be very difficult to break. 

Remaining calm is one of the best ways to handle a tantrum, but is also one of the most difficult. 

4 Tips for practicing patience through tantrums:

Image via Flickr/
Image via Flickr/Ed Yourdon

Get low and breathe:

Relaxation breathing remains one of the best ways to calm your mind and body during a stressful event.  Sit down on the floor near, but not right next to, your child (towering over children with a tense posture and facial expression only exacerbates emotions).  Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and release for a count of four.  Repeat at least three times, but as many times as necessary, to calm your emotions.  

{ MORE: When It's Something More: Dealing with Toddler Fears at Nighttime }

 

Image via iStock
Image via iStock

Describe emotions:

In a quiet, even tone, look your child in the eye and describe what your child might be feeling.  You might need to repeat the same three phrases over and over again until your child begins to hear you (it’s important to remember that when children are in the middle of a tantrum, they aren’t likely to hear what you’re saying).  “I didn’t let you finish your puzzle and that made you feel angry”, or other similar statements shows your child that you understand.

Think about the triggers.  Tantrums are more frequent when children are hungry, over-stimulated, sleep-deprived, and/or coming down with an illness.  Run through potential triggers in your mind to get to the true cause of the tantrum.

 

Image via iStock
Image via iStock

Provide reassurance:

Unconditional love is the single most powerful parenting tool available.  Love them anyway.

When negative self-talk takes over, children often fear that you will love them less after the tantrum ends.  That kind of thinking can perpetuate the cycle and increase the intensity of the tantrum.

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Remind your child that you love him anyway.  Say it more than once.  Tell him that you’re ready for a hug when he is, and you will help him get through it.  Unconditional love is the single most powerful parenting tool available.  Love them anyway. 

{ MORE: Tried & True Back-to-School Timesaving and Self-Care Hacks From Real-Life Moms }

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Image via iStock

Talk it out:

The time to deal with behavioral correction is not when your child is screaming and you are screaming back or trying desperately to remove him from a situation.  The time for behavioral correction is when your child is calm and ready to listen.

Give it time.  Revisit the incident when your child is relaxed and talk about what triggered the event and what he could do differently the next time.  Kids need to learn to cope with their emotions and correct their behavior, but they need you to show them the way.

{ MORE: When Parents Argue: Tips for Fighting Fair }

Tantrums are a child’s way of saying, “Help! I can’t handle this!”  Give them the help that they need, and you’ll find that the tantrums will begin to fade away.

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4 Tips for Practicing Patience Through Tantrums

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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5 comments

  1. Denise says:

    This couldn’t have popped up in my email at a better time. I was put on bedrest with my second pregnancy about a month and a half ago, since then my 5 year old son has thrown quite a few tantrums. ( which is very unlike him) I get it , he’s frustrated mommy can’t just get up and help him with normal things and im frustrated just the same. So learning how to get past this faze is a big help.

  2. Great article! So true about the importance of calmly naming the child’s feelings (repeatedly if required) e.g. ‘you’re feeling really angry about…/you’re really disappointed that…’.

    Making a child feel heard and validating their emotions rather than dismissing them will calm them. Isolation such as ‘time-out’ or ‘naughty step’ will make the child feel abandoned and worried, rather than teaching them good behaviour. This could make them clingy and cause more adverse behaviour.

    To teach good behaviour the child must be calm, be reassured that they are still loved and then have a brief explanation of how the behaviour effects other people/damages belongings etc.

  3. Destiny says:

    granted my daughter isnt even 2 yet but she throws some serious tantrums and several times a day. I have a lot of trouble calming her. When I cant get her calm I usually put her in her room until she stops crying and then we talk after we have both had time to chill out.

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