Lights! Camera! Drama! How to deal with kids’ tantrums

Tantrums are simply unavoidable with kids. Sooner or later, some less some more, but any toddler has drama moments. Today my son was crying desperately that his sock was almost off, got twisted and he was unable to fix that problem. So he was shouting as if somebody was cutting him alive. Poor thing, such a horrible problem! Or my daughter, also today. She forgot that she has hidden her watch in the drawer, checked the closet and realized that the watch is not there. Poor thing! She thought that she was robbed and lost her precious belonging forever! I am being sarcastic, yet actually it is totally not to be done. It is for grown-ups that those problems mean nothing, but for a small kid those problems are real and important! If I look back at what I was worried about when I was 18, for me now that also seems somewhat stupid. Yet, I remember that back then it was a big deal. Why would kids’ problems be less important?

Thus, I have identified some of the principles I try to use myself (to be honest, it doesn’t always work, but I really try!…):

Be genuinely sympathetic! I try to hold that sarcastic comment: “What’s the big deal?” to myself. It is a very difficult task especially when you have to put on the same sock over and over again. Yet, if it is actually not a big deal, I try to just fix the problem or help my kid fix it. Being able to understand and deal with emotions is way too difficult for a little toddler. Even in the example with the sock, can you imagine that you would not be able to adjust it yourself and it would be annoyingly scratching your foot? How would you feel?

It is also very important to separate emotion from action. For example, it is absolutely normal to be angry. Anger is an emotion that requires to be somehow expressed. However there is a difference between addressing the anger and addressing the behavior caused by anger. Once again, emotions are outside your control, actions on the other hand should be. So if a kid is hitting you or his sibling in anger, this action must be addressed, yet anger as such needs admission. There is no point in saying: “Stop being angry!” However: “Stop throwing your toys at people!” is a valid comment.

Whatever you do, try to use calm voice when talking to a kid in the middle of a tantrum. Shouting back doesn’t help at all. It might be a natural reaction out of frustration, but it really leads to nothing.

Nowadays, whenever my daughter for example is having a tantrum I try to take a deep breath, come down to her eye level and calmly explain her: what I think she is feeling, what she is doing, why I think she should not be doing that, what is a better option – whatever fits. It is not easy! Tell me about it… But it works. Miraculously! Yesterday we had a drama because she wanted to have her small pink toy spoon to feed her doll. An orange one was not good enough. But of course! She was crying desperately. So I sat next to her, admitted her problem, explained to her that I understand that she wants to feed the doll and the doll likes the pink spoon. However, I also told her that if her doll is very hungry she would rather eat from any spoon than stay hungry, because otherwise her belly will hurt… And so on. I talked for about 3 minutes and… she calmed down, agreed to take the orange spoon, “fed” her doll and peacefully fell asleep.

Then, of course, a tight hug! Not only because sometimes this is the core of the problem – the need for that hug – but also because on the purely physical level a tight hug makes a person in that hug calm down.

Another small physical trick – next time a kid is hysterical try blowing into kid’s palms. Combined with calm explanations this little trick also works nicely on the calming of the neural system of a kid. I must admit I don’t know how it works exactly, yet I stumbled upon this advice once and gave it a try. It worked.

Finally, a well-known tactic of distracting a kid might work as well. However, I support the opinion that this tactic denies a kid the right to his emotion and thus, basically denies the emotion as such. I must admit, I sometimes still automatically distract my kids with something, but I try to avoid using it on a regular basis.

To conclude, even though sometimes my little ones drive me completely insane with their tantrums, I do my very best to stick to the principles above. Moreover, for us they really seem to work.

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