"It was a quiet family afternoon, but then the tantrums started - her play purse wouldn't close because it had too many plastic princesses in it - and as much as I tried to explain that it might close if we take one or two "dollies out", I knew the next five minutes were inevitable...
Then it happened..... First her fists started to clench, then her face became bright red.. and then... the high pitched screaming at the top of her lungs...
I don't understand why problems that have such “logical solutions”, could make my three-year-old so angry!
Have you ever felt this way as you watch your child throw a tantrum?
You are not alone! When you watch your child instantly transform from a happy child to an angry child (in a matter if seconds), it isn’t because they are unstable monsters. These little beings don’t know how to process the emotions they are experiencing.
Unfortunately, humans aren’t born knowing how to process their emotions or problem solve. These skills are taught to us through life experiences, social expectations and loads of patience!
Let’s view this situation from an adult’s point of view.
Pretend that your best friend cancels your plans (that you made a month ago) at the LAST MINUTE… her sister-in-law is in town and has invited the family to brunch …. and she has to go. You already had the babysitter lined up, you were dressed and looking forward to a day out.
You understand but you can't help that feeling building up inside of you. You know.. the one that makes you want to scream, cry or drown your sorrows. So what do you do? You don't yell at your friend. You say "I understand, maybe next time." Then you find your calming sensory activity – such as sipping coffee, chewing gum, going on a walk/run, putting on fragrant hand lotion or smelling essential oils. You take a deep breath in and chug forward cause hey… it’s your best friend. Maybe, once you are calm and thinking clearly, you are able to come up with a solution to spend a wonderful day doing something else.
How did you learn to calm down? Why did you think through your response instead of screaming or yelling, responding in a way that would send your friendship on a roller coaster ride? Throughout your life, you learned what techniques help you calm down.
When your child is upset, they also need TIME and sensory STRATEGIES to calm down.
So, what are the 3 steps to avoid a tantrum or a meltdown?
Step 1) Teach your child that everyone has feelings.
According to Robert Plutchick, professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, more than 90 different emotions have been identified! Wow! Children, like adults, have to learn how to deal with this GIGANTIC range of emotions.
Feelings can be intense! Young children haven’t experienced all of the different emotions that you have, nor have they had the practice to develop self-control. When they feel their body start to “fume” they immediately react.
Reactions don’t involve thinking about WHY they feel the way they feel. This is why you see young children throwing objects (that they are frustrated with), hitting the toddler sitting next to them (because they are in their space) or kicking at mom when she is trying to hard to get her to sit still in the car seat (even though the child doesn’t want to go anywhere).
What do you do in this situation?
The initial reaction I hear from mom’s are: “I try to talk to them, to encourage them to stop.” Sadly, this approach doesn’t work often. Your child is so upset that they don’t hear a word that you are saying. They aren’t ignoring you on purpose, they really are engulfed in their feelings, not sure what to do next.
So what is the answer?
Give them time. Allow your child to process their feelings and provide them space to calm down independently. Once calm, they will be ready to have a conversation with you.
How do you make sure they don't hurt themselves or objects?
We already learned that our sensory system is a powerful way to calm our nerves when we are upset. Using child-friendly sensory tools will also help your child. They key is to have a box filled with sensory objects to give to your child so they can use them on their own.
How does my child know how to use these items?
I have been working with young children for over 15 years, and have learned that talking to children while they are “fuming” just doesn’t work. The key is to teach your child how to use these items before they become upset or overwhelmed.
Children learn best with objects that are visually appealing and tangible (objects they can hold.) Books the have colorful photos and simple words are easy for children to remember. The Soothing Sammy story teaches children calm down skills in a ways that is easy for them to remember and implement in times of stress.
Step 2) Encourage your child to use words or gestures to Communicate their feelings.
Once your child is calm, ask them how they are feeling and why they are upset. With over 90 different feelings/emotions, it is hard for children to put those feelings into words.
How you can help?
Children learn best through active learning meaning that they learn best when they are participating in a hands-on way. Throughout the day, talk about different feelings with your child. Ask them to look in the mirror and make different faces that match their feelings. Can they identify your feelings by the faces you make?
Looking for some simple games that you can play at home?
Pre-K YOUR Way offers "Emotions and Feelings" activities that teach children how to identify a variety of emotions. These activities provide opportunities to learn this vocabulary and to identify some of these new feelings in themselves and others. For children that are not talking yet, ask them to point to what they are mad at.
Step 3) Assist your child in Solving the Problem.
Once you and your child have identified why your child is upset, you can help them solve the problem. Your child looks to you for answers. Now that you and your child are both calm, you can help each other solve the problem, after all, two minds are better then one!
Ask your child how they think they can fix the problem. In Starla's case, taking out two dollies may help her purse close. If your child is unable to come to a solutions on their own, give them hints. In Starla's case, the adult can take out one doll and ask the child to try and close the purse. If it doesn't close yet, ask your child to take out one more.
By including her in developing the solution, they will remember what to do next time so they won't get upset. Since you were able to help in a calm way, your child will be more willing to ask you for help next time before they react.
Following these 3 steps will not only prevent your child from tantrumming, but it will also teach them how to handle their feelings in a productive way.
If you are looking for a simple way to teach your child these calm down strategies, our Soothing Sammy Collection would be a great place to start. It’s a great program for all ages!
Soothing Sammy teaches children how to manage their emotions in a way they will understand, remember and implement. I created the 4-Piece Soothing Sammy Collection to teach children these strategies in the way they learn the best - with objects that are visually appealing and tangible (objects they can hold.)
The first part of the Soothing Sammy Kit is a children's book. In the story, children visit Sammy, the golden retriever, at his dog house. They feel upset and Sammy teaches them how to calm down using sensory tools, such as: smelling a pleasant scent (like lotion or a flower), crunching on a snack, jumping in a safe spot, humming a favorite song and more!
The second component is Sammy the Plush dog. This cuddly, soft, plush golden retriever that brings the children's book to life. Follow the instructions in the back for the Soothing Sammy Book to learn how to construct a "Sammy house" (using an empty box or container) for Sammy to live in. Place the suggested household items into Sammy's House (which were talked about in the book. When your child becomes upset, redirect them to Sammy's house where they will be able to use his items to calm down in a safe and effective way.
The third component is our "Emotions and Feelings" activities that teach a variety of different emotions that children can feel. With over 90 different feelings/emotions, it is hard for children to put those feelings into words. These activities provide opportunities to learn this vocabulary and to identify some of these new feelings in themselves and others. Once your child is calm, ask them how they are feeling and why they are upset.
The fourth component of the Soothing Sammy kit comes with an 80 page parent guide that was written by Jeana Kinne, MA, offering positive parenting solutions to a variety of common situations (such as eating out in restaurants, going on long car rides, going shopping, sharing with siblings, leaving the park, waiting in a long line, etc). It includes a reflection area in each category so you can make a plan that fits your family.
The children’s book, along with Sammy the plush dog and parent guide was created to support stress-free parenting. When parents have a plan, they are more confident, able to stay positive and learn how/why their little angels are acting the way they are.
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