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"He has a hard time
regulating himself," I'd tell myself over and over whenever my then 5-year-old
son would throw a tantrum and go from 0 to 100 over the simplest, most
innocuous thing. Our pediatrician had told us our son was totally normal.
"There's nothing wrong with your son," our doctor said. "He just has a hard
time regulating himself."
If you're like me, the
parent of a kid prone to tantrums, you know how difficult and emotionally
draining tantrums can be. I didn't handle his tantrums well. I was angry and
resentful, mad at my kid that he couldn't keep it together. I wanted him to be
like other kids who never seemed to be fazed by much.
Parenting books were
somewhat to blame for my resentment. Every parenting book suggested that kids
throw temper tantrums as a way to manipulate their parents to get what they
want. I'm sure some kids do. But in my son's case, he simply didn't know how to
control his reactions. He was either really happy or falling apart. There was
no in between. It wasn't until I changed my reaction to his tantrums and
realized my job was to teach him how to calm himself that his tantrums ended.
So how did I stop
throwing tantrums about my son's tantrums and help him to regulate himself?
Here are six things I did.
1.I CHANGED: I stopped being angry at my son for throwing tantrums
willing my son to be different or being angry that he was throwing a tantrum, I
accepted that this is who he is and learned to help.
2.I STOPPED ADDING
FUEL TO THE FIRE: I didn't ignore my son, but I did ignore the tantrum
My son wasn't
trying to get attention by throwing a tantrum. But I noticed that when I did try to
speak to him when he was throwing a tantrum, it almost seemed to start the
tantrum over. So while I always made sure my son was safe and that others
around were as well, I didn't talk to him while he was throwing a tantrum
except to say one time, "I love you and I'd be glad to talk to you when you've
My son needs to know I love him no matter what and not feel like he's a bad kid for freaking out.
THROWING TANTRUMS: I stopped telling him to stop
A child who can't
regulate himself certainly isn't going to have a miraculous epiphany because his
mom is screaming, "Stop it!" My son
needed me to be a calm, kind force who could show him how to react.
4.I BECAME THE
TEACHER: I teach him how to calm himself down
suggested that I needed to teach my son to calm his own tantrums by 1) Not
talking to him during the tantrum, which only makes it worse. 2) Picking up a
book that my son likes and reading it aloud within earshot of my son. Our
doctor said that if I simply started reading a book aloud, my son would want to
join in and would learn that he could pick up a book when he's feeling out of
control and calm himself down.
I didn't believe
her, but I tried it and the results were exactly as she suggested. Now when my
son gets upset he'll often ask me to read a book or he'll take one out on his
own. Makes sense! Grown-ups have tools to calm themselves down. Why shouldn't
5.I DON'T MAKE IT A
TEACHABLE MOMENT: I never talk about the tantrum afterward
Talking about the
tantrum afterward only gave it more weight than it deserved. Unless my son
brings it up, I don't. We move on and move forward.
6.I LOVE HIM
UNCONDITIONALLY: I don't punish my son or take something away after he throws a tantrum
We tried every sticker
chart, poker chip system and reward system known to parent-kind with no results
in getting rid of tantrums. Fact is, a
lot of kids who are prone to tantrums are anxious kids to begin with, so feeling
like they're going to lose something for a behavior they can't yet control only
adds to the anxiety and the tantrums. My
son needs to know I love him no matter what and not feel like he's a bad kid for
freaking out. So we got rid of all the charts and rewards and just tried to
deal with the problem head on.
For a while, my
son was throwing huge tantrums every day. The tantrums used to seem so random,
but now I can track backwards and see what led up to the meltdown. I can't
remember the last time he had a meltdown. But if he does, I'm going to tell him
I love him and read him a book he likes. Point is, I'm not mad. I'm helping.
That's my job, right?
Does your kid
throw tantrums? How do you handle it and what are your suggestions for other
moms who might be at their wit's end of their kid falling apart?