Tantrums? Why You Should Be “Dealing with the Feeling”

Posted on August 29, 2014

A good friend of mine, a Mom to a beautiful two year old, recently moved into a new home. The anxiety of loan approvals, walk throughs, packing, remodeling, and unpacking is in full swing. Princess’s response? Throwing food, hitting, hearing but refusing to listen, and open forum public meltdowns! “How can we not lose our cool? How do we stay consistent when we are not in the comfort of our own home?” asked this concerned mom.

I’m a big advocate of approaching issues with an educated and intellectual approach through understanding. That always helps put things in perspective. Putting things in perspective is what ushers in patience to handle situations. But when parental emotions are flying all over the place, it is challenging to engage the intellect to participate. Emotions always roadblock understanding. If we don’t address the emotions, the intellect and understanding will not kick in. Period.

Here is a great TOG that can help turn a communication breakdown into a communication breakthrough!

So, step ONE:

Dealing with the Feeling — this is a two-parter. Spot it and say it.

1. Spot the feeling that YOU are feeling and say it out loud. “I am frustrated!” “I am annoyed!” “I am angry!”

2. Okay it: Tell yourself that you have good reason to feel the way you are feeling. Feelings are what they are; they are neither right, nor wrong. All feelings are acceptable. By doing this, you are not fighting with the feelings, but accepting them. You would be amazed at how putting feelings in perspective helps you, the parent, completely relax.

Think of what happens when your brain is bouncing from place to place, name to name, scanning to remember the name of a familiar face you just saw at the grocery store. It can bug us for hours.

“What was her name again? How do I know her? I can’t figure it out!” This can go on for hours and sometimes days. And then, VOILA! The minute you remember the name, your mind frame changes. Why? Because there is a disconnected link in the brain that is trying to identify this person while agitating feelings.

Similarly, spotting and saying (identifying or naming) feelings and then okaying them (validating them) helps you first put your feelings in perspective so that you can think intelligently and with understanding and patience.

Step TWO:

Dealing with your child’s feeling: Spot it, Say it and Okay it.

1. Spot it, Say it: In this case we are dealing with a two-year-old.

a: Let’s assume that you already know the benefits of Emotional Intelligence and have been building your child’s emotional vocabulary. This really puts you at an advantage to walk him or her through those feelings: “Can you tell me what you’re feeling?” or “Are you angry?” Your child’s tantrum is simply a cry for help to identify the feelings. If your child does not have an emotional vocabulary, then you will have a tantrum on your hands 100% of the time. If your child does have an emotional vocabulary, then the tantrums will get cut down by half! Words help us make sense of things. Naming feeling with words helps us identify them, and recognizing them helps calm down the emotions. Now when you are moving to okay-ing their feelings with acknowledgement like “I understand how you are feeling. I would be angry too,” you have validated and respected those feelings. This is empathy at its very best, which is a huge driver of communication between parents and children.

b. Let’s assume that your child does not have an emotional vocabulary. In this case, walk your child through his or her own emotions: “I can see you’re angry or sad or mad,” and see if there’s a response. If your child does not respond and the tantrum continues, it is purely because he or she is unable to express the feelngs. In order to put tantrums in perspective, it is a must that parents put in the time and effort to raise emotionally intelligent children.

New research indicates that Emotional Intelligence (EI) enhances a child’s social and emotional skills, which is a determining factor of a child’s academic and social success. But in the mean time, you will just have to let the tantrum pass. But when timing is right, you MUST practice “dealing with feeling” to minimize the tantrums. Take the time to explore EI building products and toys on the market for children  and see what will work best for your child. You will see a little bit of effort and practice will take you a long way toward building good communication habits early on.

New research is even pointing to the fact that “terrible two’s” are a misnomer. Children at 20 months go through a big growth spurt where they are starting to understand their own individuality and their place in the world. They are beginning to explore their inner dependence, their in-dependence. The first big steps of walking and talking (or saying words) independently is their declaration of independence. As they explore this independence, they are also reminded of boundaries by their parents. “No” becomes our most commonly used word. Does it not seem a little daunting to be them all of a sudden? They see the playground and other children at the park. They have experienced how fun that can be. Yet, as they gaze out of their car seats wishing and asking to go the park, their little brains cannot put into perspective that now is not the appropriate time to visit the park. Cue the tantrum.

This is step THREE if you are able to calm the child’s feelings down and step TWO if not:

Think with Empathy: As you calm your own emotions and put your best foot forward to calm theirs, understand their perspective; understand their age, phase, and stage of development and ability to understand. Think about the situation at hand with empathy and resolve the situation with empathy. When parents help children validate or okay their feelings, that is empathy, too. And there is no better way to teach your child empathy than by teaching by example.

Also remember to be empathetic with your own phase and stage of life. If you are moving, chances are that you are burning the candle at both ends in which case, do not pressure yourself or your child into stellar behavior and responses. When busy-ness is the need of the hour, know that it is a new and unexpected chain of events for the family; emotions are bound to flare up. Be okay with it. I’m not saying expect it. But when they show up, be prepared to accommodate for them by simply taking some time out or just allowing them to work out the emotions. Taking five deep breaths and drinking water can definitely calm the pace and the emotions, which will also buy you some time to think things through. The key is to respond instead of to react.

As for public meltdowns among strangers: don’t worry what others think or say. If you are at a grocery store, chances are you won’t see those people ever again anyway. And if you’re among friends, know that EVERY parent has been through this many times over and that they understand. And if they are making you feel bad, find new friends to hang out with and/or deal with your own feelings and you will be able to handle theirs! Remember, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”