Some people geek out about Game of Thrones, cross fit or maybe even video games, I geek out on all things child development. It not only was my major in college but being a stay at home mom has made me feel like I am conducting a case study in my home on a daily basis, testing new hypotheses and drawing conclusions on what works and what doesn’t for my little one. My sweet daughter has recently entered a new stage in her development, the wonderful world of temper tantrums or, as I like to think of it, the world of overwhelming emotions that you experience, but your brain and body are not quite sure what the heck they are yet or what one should do with them so why not just throw myself on the floor stage.
Needless to say, this was a stage I knew we were approaching and like any good researcher I have devoted many hours gathering data by listening to different podcasts, reading tons of articles or getting advice from momming experts about different strategies to help my child develop into an emotionally healthy human being.
My main goal as a parent is to raise a kind, loving, compassionate, physically and emotionally healthy woman. There are a ton of other adjectives that I would love her to be as well, but first and foremost I want her to be a decent human being that treats herself and others with the utmost love and respect, and I strongly believe that starts by helping her to develop her social-emotional skills.
After trying out a few strategies this is what I have found that works for us. First, I try my hardest to make sure that we can avoid some temper tantrums by sticking to a routine, getting enough sleep at night and for naps, having snacks available and regular meal times, having developmentally appropriate expectations (i.e. sharing is not a skill a 20-month-old has fully grasped yet), knowing what situations are likely to cause a tantrum and figure out ways to either avoid them or give her tools ahead of time to make her feel confident entering that situation. I also handle her tantrums better when I am rested as well because tired mama means no real patience for tiny screaming humans. However, let’s be real mamas, life happens, lack of sleep happens, hunger happens, lack of routine happens, which means tantrums happen. Even if I do manage to have consistency in all the aforementioned areas, there are still many stimulants out in the world that I have no control over and as my daughter is learning to be more independent there are still many things that she is not able to do on her own just yet, ultimately leading to a meltdown.
If a temper tantrum cannot be avoided I have started doing something similar to sportscasting, giving a non-biased play by play of what is happening on the field aka our kitchen floor. Once a temper tantrum starts I try my best to figure out what caused it, get on her level and then explain to my daughter in a calm, reassuring voice what emotion she is feeling, what may have caused her to experience that emotion and what her reaction was to that event (i.e. “You are frustrated because the swifter got stuck when you were pushing it and now you are crying on the floor.”). Once she has calmed down, which honestly has been fairly quickly since switching to this strategy, I explain again what feeling she was having, what caused that feeling and what we can do next time all while either hugging her or sitting near her and rubbing her back. My words are giving my daughter language to describe how she is feeling and the physical connection is helping calm her body down so she can process what just happened.
Third, we usually try the activity that caused the frustration to begin with again and sometimes we are able to successfully accomplish what she originally had set out to do, but if it leads to another tantrum we start the explanation again and try to pick a calming activity like reading a book, taking deep breaths (smell the flower, blow out the candle) or singing a song. I recently bought a poster that has visual representations of feelings and different calming strategies. Now some of you may think who has time for all of this, but I have found that with practice, this strategy has actually saved me time because my daughter calms down quicker, meaning we can move on with our day while still understanding emotionally what just happened.
However, if a tantrum has still not ended, then I let my daughter just get her emotions out without trying to intervene. I kindly ignore the behavior but stay available to her so once she is ready I can offer a hug and some reassuring words. I like to think that if I am meeting her emotional needs with kindness and respect now, she will also offer that to herself and others in the future.
Now, this is not a foolproof way to avoid all tantrums, as each child and family is different, but this has worked for us and I encourage you mamas if you have not found a strategy yet that works, do a little research and don’t be afraid to try something new. Even if it doesn’t work, at least you know what not to do. Luckily, I have read that temper tantrum usually peak between the ages of 18 to 24 months, so it will only be a bit more time until another fun developmental stage comes along to research.
Resources I have found helpful: