How to stop Temper Tantrums with Compassion


Children's Behavior / Thursday, September 6th, 2018

If there’s a single question asked by all parents out there, it is how to stop temper tantrums. This article discusses the nature and source of a tantrum (a word I’m very much against) and explains how to deal with it while keeping the attachment in place.

To learn how to stop temper tantrums we must first try to understand the experience our little ones are going through while having a tantrum. As adults, we rarely think of how challenging it is to be a child. With our years of experience, we know how the world works, we know its rules and how we can bend them in our favor. We are already a part of the game, we’ve won, we’ve lost, we’ve tied out. Our children are just making their first moves in this game, first moves out of themselves and into this world, that constantly clashes with their limited perspectives. These clashes take place each time they want something they can’t have, each time they want to do something they can’t do and generally every time the world is not exactly as they envisioned it. Just imagine how frustrating it is: your child knows what he wants, in many cases, it’s right there in front of him, but for reasons he does not grasp – he can’t have it now.

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What are Temper Tantrums?

Many people call the outcome to the above a tantrum; I disagree with this term as it doesn’t respect the child’s feelings. The definition of tantrum is judgmental, only having to do with what we, the adults, experience: an emotional outburst usually characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming and the like, but it doesn’t address the reason to it in any way.

When we tell ourselves “oh, he’s having a tantrum”, there’s very little we feel like doing about it because of what it is – a tantrum, a meaningless word. In reality, a temper tantrum (and all other behaviors that are usually deemed “negative”) are the outcome of unmet needs. Negative feelings arise when our needs are sabotaged, this is the case for children and adults alike. Whenever we try to affect the behavior without addressing the need behind it – we will either fail miserably, or succeed and hurt our attachment.   

Each time our little ones experience big feelings, we have the amazing opportunity to teach them how to properly handle them and grow their future coping abilities. Dealing with frustration and reaching a state of futility regarding the frustrating reality is a crucial learning process and is a critical part of growing up. Here are the three options on how to deal with tantrums:

Change Frustrating Reality

“Mom, I want to watch another episode”

“No honey, you’ve watched enough today”

“But Mom, I really want to watch another episode!”

“Ok, watch another episode”

The frustrating reality changed into your child’s desired reality and frustration didn’t even get a real chance to pop in.

Maintain Frustrating Reality, Let Your Child Handle it on His Own

“Mom, I want to watch another episode”

“No honey, you’ve watched enough today”

“But Mom, I really want to watch another episode!”

“I said, no!”

“Mom!!!!! I WANT TO WATCH ANOTHER EPISODE”

At this point, your child is already screaming and crying and you tell him that you’re not willing to talk to him when he’s like this and that he’s welcome to come to you after he had calmed down.  

This will leave your child with the frustration of not being able to watch another episode and with additional frustration for the loss of your attachment. Leaving him alone at this point, without addressing his feelings is leaving him alone with these feelings; feelings he can’t yet understand and properly process. Without providing tools to manage frustration, it grows and becomes the leading emotion, one that is easier to access in the future and that could result in acts of violence because it needs to be vented, somehow.  

No More Tantrums

Maintain Frustrating Reality, Teach Adaptation

“Mom, I want to watch another episode”

“No honey, you’ve watched enough today”

“But Mom, I really want to watch another episode!”

“I understand you want to watch more TV, sweetheart, I really do. You’re mad at me for not letting you…”

When he’s screaming and crying, hold him (or don’t, depending on him) and validate his feelings, give them presence and names. Express your love even more so when he is angry.

With your comforting words and compassionate touch, you allow your child the process of adaptation that leads to the acceptance of the new reality. You give his feelings names, and explain why he feels the way he feels. With understanding, his anger turns to sadness, with some more processing, his sadness turns to acceptance of loss, called the state of futility, in which he understands that he cannot change the reality, and that he must adapt to it. There are no other options. Reaching this state, your child is completely adapted to the new situation, he might still not be happy about it but he is confident and his mind is free to look for an alternative.   

“Ok Mom, would you read a book with me”?  

You didn’t change the reality in your child’s favor, but you changed your child to better deal with the hard reality, and helped him look for alternative ways to meet his needs.

How to stop temper tamtrums with compassion, and use these outbursts to connect to your child.

Got Lemons? Make Lemonade

Frustrations and methods of dealing with it set the tone for our children’s development. Leaving them alone with their feeling will not give them the tools to adapt, learn and accept. It will strengthen their frustration, making this feeling easier to access in the future, by thus increasing its presence in our children’s lives.

Compassionately dealing with frustration is key. Understanding where it comes from and why, giving our children the space to cry and scream while offering them our love and embrace, leading them through the process and towards that state where they fathom the futility of their desires, we allow them to learn, accept and adapt, free their minds from frustration and teach them positive ways to cope with negative feelings.

Next time you want to say “tantrum”, join my Facebook group, together we will explain, embrace, learn and adapt to the method of Nonviolent Communication.  

Viki de Lieme

Hi there! Welcome to my home 🙂 I am a mom, a parent educator, a Nonviolent Communication specialist, and attachment parenting advocate. I help children (and their parents) reconnect and find the joy of family life.

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