It’s not just toddlers that have tantrums. Even older kids can lose their cool. Here are my 8 Top Tips for Dealing with an Older Child’s Tantrum, part 2 of my Tantrum series for Parents:
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Your eight year old is throwing a hissy fit. Slamming things down, tears, making angry roars and accusations: ’You hate me.’ ‘Nobody understands.’
It’s hard for a parent when a child has a tantrum. It’s hard not to react when your child’s having a meltdown. Occasional upsets happen, but when there is a regular pattern of challenging behaviour, a parent needs insights to know what to do.
The first thing to know is that an eight year old’s temper tantrum is not the same as a toddler tantrum. Just watch the child’s facial expression.
A toddler in a tantrum is distressed. She needs emotional support to regain her equilibrium. The toddler can’t help his tantrum. Sometimes life is challenging and big emotions can overwhelm. Because the young child’s brain is still under construction, sometimes meltdown happens.
My blog, ‘5 Mistakes Not To Make When Your Toddler Has a Tantrum’, gives practical tips on how to deal with a toddler tantrum. (This can be helpful regarding older age tantrums as well.)
An eight year old child’s tantrum is different. Look closely and you’ll see an angry face. Margot Sunderland, author of ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’, refers to the tantrums of an older child as ‘little Nero tantrums’ because the child has learned to use this tactic to rule the household, like a mini-dictator. The child’s tantrum gets her what she’s demanding. So she learns to USE angry outbursts to control others.
Sadly, it’s us parents who teach children to continue having tantrums, long after the stage when they would naturally outgrow them.
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Here’s a scenario from my book, ‘BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t’:
‘We were coming out of the supermarket. The trolley’s laden with a full week’s groceries and our three year old starts performing: “I want my new toy.”
I say to him. “No – not now Johnny. Wait till we get home.”
“I want my toy.” Johnny starts winding up the volume and pitch.
“I want my toy.”
Everyone in the carpark is staring at us and Johnny gets louder and louder – wailing and carrying on until he’s in a full blown tantrum. I couldn’t stand it. I stopped right there and delved through the mounds of shopping until I found the toy. He wouldn’t stop crying till I let him have it. What could I have done differently?’
‘Guess what’s going to happen next time you go shopping!’ laughed Martin. ‘He knows it worked this time so he’s bound to repeat the performance next time!’
It’s easy to give in to your child’s tantrum for the sake of peace. But what are you teaching your child: When you can’t get your own way, shout, wail and perform and if you do it loud enough and long enough you’ll get what you want! So what can a parent do to stop this challenging behaviour?
8 Top Tips For Dealing With an Older Child’s Tantrum:
#1. Choose to stay calm.
Focus on your breathing. (You want your calm to be stronger than her anger. The strongest emotion will be the most contagious! )
#2. Don’t hook in to the behaviour.
Be like teflon not like velcro. Show with your warm, soft eye contact and with your open body language that you are ‘there’ for your child – but refuse to be drawn in to the tantrum. Just let the outburst roll off, like teflon! Your child’s tantrum is about her, your response is about you.
#3. When your child is overwrought, don’t try to reason.
Once the reactive part of your child’s brain (the ‘crocodile brain’) has been triggered the reasoning part of the brain is temporarily ‘offline’. So explaining doesn’t work – the conflict is just likely to escalate. Rather, refuse to be drawn into discussion about the issue until your child has calmed down.
#4. Acknowledge your child’s emotion.
Keep calm and, try to see life through your child’s eyes. Without being drawn into trying to explain or justify, name her emotion. ‘You’re upset.’ ‘You’re angry.’
#5. Avoid threatening or punishing your child.
Your comments like, ‘You won’t go to the movies’ or ‘You’ll be grounded’ aren’t helpful. She’s already reactive. Threatening comments will just push her further into meltdown. Calmly sidestep the fight.
As Brer Rabbit said, ‘You don’t have to jump into every briar patch you see.’
#6. Needs not Wants.
Give her what she needs (compassionate connection) not what she wants (the toy in the bottom of the shopping trolley!)
#7. Assure her you can talk about it once everyone has calmed down.
If your child shouts something like, ‘It’s not fair.’ or ‘You don’t love me.’ it’s tempting to try to explain yourself – to tell her that what she is saying isn’t true when she makes accusatory comments. But her reasoning brain is ‘offline’ when she’s angry. Now is not the time to try to reason.
#8. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
If you’ve told your child that he can’t have the toy till you’re home, then calmly and firmly stick to what you said. Your child will test you to see if you mean what you say.
When you cave in even once, or state consequences your child knows you won’t follow through, you set yourself up for more of the same nagging, tears, shouting or other annoying behaviour.
Try Not To Change the Child’s Behaviour
Ideally, the child will naturally outgrow the tantrum stage at a younger age. Even if you have developed a habit of giving in to the child’s tantrum for the sake of peace, it’s always possible to develop healthier ways of interacting, no matter what age your child. What matters is not to try to change the child’s behaviour.
Rather, if tantrums have become a habit, change your own behaviour! Focus on how you can handle the situation differently. Focus on handling yourself differently. When you do differently you’ll get a different outcome. Choose to remain the adult rather than become part of the problem.
The time when situations become heated and tantrums threaten to overwhelm is when you most want to be calm, compassionate and firm.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog why not watch me chatting about tantrums (recorded from our Mykidstime Facebook live).
Over to you now. We’d love to hear your questions and comments about the challenges of an older child’s tantrums and what you find helps.