I'll let you in on a profound insight that changed my life.
Your kids don't need tantrum training but you probably do!
No doubt you have always been shown and told that tantrums are a bad thing. It is a common view.
But, I think you'll come to value them—once you see how they can restore your child's good thinking.
All it takes is a little re-training!
Tantrum Training 1: Ignoring tantrums doesn't help
Here's the reframe.
In our culture tantrums are perceived as something to squash, something to ignore, something to divert from.
The Parenting by Connection perspective provides a very different view.
Science shows us how the human brain is built for connection.
From the moment they are born, children's brains are hard wired to seek out connection and safety. When they feel warm, loving attention from a caring adult, children thrive. But life isn't always easy on our small people, and even things that seem harmless to us grownups can really upset a baby or a child. A door slamming noisily, or mum going into the next room, can throw your child's sense of connection right out.
When a child's doesn't feel the level of safety they need, they can get upset and when that upset happens, the thinking part of the brain goes offline. Trying to restore logic and reason at this point, during a tantrum or upset, through talking, simply can't work.
Tantrum Training 2: How to help tantrums pass without talking
Your child is good, and wants to behave well, but when they lose a sense of connection they lose impulse control.
Your child, like children all over the world, has an instinctive healing process that works beautifully to bring their thinking mind back online when after they lose their sense of connection.
Your child's body is designed to restore equilibrium in a number of elegant ways – through laughter, sweating, tears, shaking and tantrums. By letting out all those difficult feelings in a tantrum, your child can get back to their good, thinking self.
The rational, logical brain can operate again, unimpeded by a flood of emotions.
If you can stay with your child through the tantrum, not trying to change things, fix things or shush them, your child will get to the end of this emotional storm. They will look up and see that you have been an anchor throughout.
You didn't judge, or threaten, or distract. You sat beside them and just let them have their feelings. You heard them.
What a gift!
Hand in Hand Parenting calls this practice of staying with an upset child, Staylistening.
Tantrum Training 3: Try this at home the first time
Now, it's entirely possible that you are thinking this sounds like an impossible idea. In the middle of the shopping centre, sit with my child while they tantrum?
We do recommend that the first time you try supporting your child in this way you do it at home or in a place you feel very safe and supported. It can be really hard to listen to the depth of feeling your child has, without adding in stares of curiosity (or judgement).
There's a great post on how to handle tantrums in public here.
Tantrum Training 4: Try it for just five minutes
My challenge for you is to give this a try for just five minutes.
If you have a toddler, you'll likely be experiencing some regular opportunities to give this a go. If you can make it all the way to the end of the upset, so much the better.
But if five minutes is all you have, or all you can give, that's amazing too.
Pouring your love in while your child pours out upset makes the space they need to think well again.
The next thing to do is to watch your child's behaviour afterwards.
You know you are on the right track when irritability or defiance goes away for a while.
What happens? Are they kinder to the cat? More connected to you? More able to play independently?
Because you surrounded your child with your loving attention and supported them through deep upset, you've built on your connection and relationship.
Experimenting with this approach is absolutely worth it. By staying with your child's big emotions and not trying to change them, you give a wonderful gift and you'll get something in return – your warm, cooperative, loving little person back again!
Here's how this strategy can work in real life
In this true story from the book Listen by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore, a mom explains how her child bounces right back from frustration after she listens to her cry.
My six year old twin girls and I were home together one hot summer afternoon, and were looking for something to do. I thought paper crafting would be fun, so I looked up information about making long strings of paper dolls and snowflakes. Why snowflakes?
Any cool thought when it's over 108 degrees outside helps!
I traced pictures of boys or girls onto paper, and my daughters would cut them out. We were having a decent time, but after a short while, my daughter was very frustrated. She gets frustrated when she can't learn something as fast as she would like.
Often she gives up entirely, and calls herself stupid.
It pains me to watch this bright child give up. I had done some listening time to deal with my own feelings about this, and that was about to pay off.
Cutting the paper dolls wasn't easy, as we had to cut through eight layers of paper. She wanted to do it herself without help, but she couldn't with her kid scissors and small hands. She was so frustrated that she threw the paper doll onto the table and said, “I quit!”
I saw the learning pattern show up, and so instead of trying to make her feel better by comforting her or doing it for her, I stayed calm and waited.
She fell on the floor and had a tantrum, crying and showing me how helpless she felt. I Staylistened for ten to fifteen minutes.
As quickly as she began, she stopped. I watched her settle down, and though I was convinced she would feel better, I didn't think she'd go back to the craft after being so upset.
I was wrong.
She came back to the table, asked for the scissors, and went back to cutting the dolls. Not only did she finish that set of paper dolls, she continued making dolls for an hour, and by the time she was done, she'd made a girl, boy, mom, dad and two other strings of paper dolls.
I was amazed.
She was so proud of herself and her ability to make the dolls after all. And I learned something important. These tools work as promised.
I felt empowered to help her.
I finally had a way to reach for her when she was shutting down: just listen.
This post appeared originally on Belynda's blog, Parenting By Connection With Belynda Smith.
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