Meltdowns are tough. Tantrums are treacherous.
They are downright life-sucking. They sneak on you without notice and they stay like the plague.
Once they arrive, there is no switch to turn them off. It’s like the aliens have descended and abducted your child’s brain. One moment your toddler, pre teen or teen is the sweetest thing, all cuddly in your arms and whoa, what happened – what did you miss? – you blinked and the torrents descended. Your child transforms from human to monster, from sweetness to absolute wickedness. Arms flailing, tears pouring, voice shrieking – should I say more???
Every parent just wants to know one thing: “how can I get my kid to stop?”
In our confusion, we say the wrong things to our children. Without realizing we worsen the situation, instead of mitigating it. In all my years as a parent and clinical psychologist, these are the three common phrases parents say that not only exacerbates the tantrum but also creates a disconnect between parent and child.
MISTAKE #1: “Use Your Words”
New-age parents especially, think that they are being highly evolved when they tell their kids to use their words. This is the absolute wrong thing to tell a kid who is in the middle of a brain freeze and emotional flood. The last thing they can do at these moments is use their literacy skills. This is especially true for kids under the age of 6. When we tell them to use their words, we frustrate them to no end because this is not the mental state they are naturally in. They feel controlled by us even more and this causes them to kick and scream even louder.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: As your kid is overwhelmed by their big feelings, it is crucial that we enter their presence with a state of detached, yet calm, energy. We need to show them that we are there for them, without controlling them or domineering over them. Like a tall mountain, we need to show them that we can withstand their torrential thunders and their gusty winds. The most important thing we can do is move toward them with stillness, calmness and full-on presence, and try to hold them close to us if they let us. When they see us relate to them with great empathy in our eyes, they will naturally absorb our strong, yet silent, caring and slowly begin to find their way out of the dungeon themselves. The moment they sense us controlling them, however, the quicker they will resist and pump their tantrum with more gusto.
MISTAKE #2: “What’s wrong? What happened? Why are you acting this way?”
Again, in an attempt to connect to our kids, we try to use questions to get to our kids’ heart. We want to show them that we care and are concerned about their well-being. In our desire to come across as loving, we ask them a thousand questions, probing, inquisitive and curious. We think this is going to help our kids open up. What this does instead is cause them to clam up even more. When our kids’ are showing their upset through their screams, tears and body-language, it’s as if they are shouting at us, “Can’t you see that I am mad/sad/hurt/betrayed/guilty/scared??? WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME TO SAY WHY AND HOW??? Can’t you just be here with me and allow me to express my pain?”
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