How to Thwart Tantrums with ESP

The Sarasota chapter of the Holistic Moms Network recently hosted a great meeting on tantrums called Turning Tantrums into Teachable Moments. Our featured guest speaker was Diane Weiss of Parenting Works. We were very excited that she agreed to share her expertise with us as she has more than 25 years experience as a child development and parenting education specialist and is one of the co-founders of Forty Carrots Family Center, a wonderful resource for families in Sarasota.

It was interesting to hear the perspectives of different parents as we went around the room to share our experiences with children’s tantrums or meltdowns. Some struggle with this much more so than others but the common thread was that we all wanted to learn better tools for preventing and dealing with what can be very stressful behavior for the child, the parent as well as other family members.

First, we talked about tantrum warning signs. These are the early trigger warnings that we often recognize but sometimes may try to ignore. These may include hunger, tiredness, sickness, or general difficulty with transitions. It’s often worth spending the extra couple of minutes to ease a transition than to pay the price of a tantrum later. They may also be due to normal developmental stages that the child may be going through. A child’s temperament also plays a factor, as does whether or not they feel emotionally connected – sometimes being held and having one-on-one time with their loved ones is what they really need. Also, of course, a child often sees the world as revolving around them and we just happen to live in it, so if they have their wishes thwarted by us, as they often do by loving parents who are looking out for their health, safety and social development (no, you can’t eat ice-cream for breakfast; no, you can’t run into the street; no, you can’t hit someone if they take your toy etc), this can cause a meltdown. We also discussed the importance of using humor or unexpected behavior and words to divert tantrums.

Next, Diane talked about the anatomy of a tantrum. In the throes of a tantrum, there is no high-level cognitive thought going on in your little one so logic or reason are unlikely to help. When the child is engaged in the brain stem, consumed by emotion and in a place where nothing we say will get to them, we have to help gently move the child back to the cortex where he will be capable of expressing himself and understanding you better.

So what can you do when you see your child heading toward a tantrum? In brief, Diane Weiss suggested using ESP:

Emotions & Empathy Name the emotions your child is feeling; arm them with a good vocabulary to describe their big feelings; be a mirror for your child. Ultimately we want to communicate that all emotions are ok but some behaviors are not.

Soothing Strategies Identify strategies that help our children move back from the brain stem into the cortex. Examples of strategies that can help soothe a child include having a drink of water, having a bath, using essential oils, getting a hug, breastfeeding (if child is still nursing), breathing techniques (encouraging them to take deep abdominal breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, which will help to center and ground them, may be presented as ‘smell a flower, blow out a candle‘), massage or touch, and having an opportunity to sleep or nap. Sleep deprivation is a leading cause of tantrums!

Problem solving & Praise At first, the soothing strategies above will be more parent-directed as the parent helps give the child strategies and offers praise as they regain control. As the child matures a little with age and becomes more adept at using their own coping strategies, then it becomes more parent-guided. Eventually the strategies are parent-supported as the child learns to implement their best strategies themselves.

It’s difficult to summarize two hours of a great meeting into a blog post! Hopefully this will give you some ideas to help your child and yourself in the event of a tantrum (and in plenty of other family situations!). Some highly recommended books along these lines that you may be interested in include:

These are available to borrow from me and are often available at our local Goodwill bookstores.

Has your child had any tantrums? What strategies do you use to help him or her?


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