How to deal with a tantrum
Stop and remember it’s not personal! This is about your child being “emotionally overwhelmed”. They don’t have the same developed brains as adults so we cannot expect to rationalise with them when they are on “overwhelm”.
Instead, observe. Consider that they are clearly really upset about SOMETHING – you might not even understand what it is in that moment – it might seem irrational to you. But trust that in this moment there is something that your child is finding genuinely difficult to deal with. By saying “I can see how upset you are/I can see you REALLY want the (chocolate/to walk/the toy)” your child will feel comforted by your empathy. It allows your child to feel seen and heard and will see their baboon calm down a lot quicker when they feel understood by you.
Your guide to what to watch next – no spoilers, we promise
It does not mean you always have to give in to things, but pick your battles. Is it really such a big deal if your toddler wants to walk rather than sit in the pushchair? Maybe they need to burn off some energy? Why not take their hand and walk with them -l it’s an opportunity to bond rather than go into battle!
How the brain works
This is the first part of the brain to develop – the brain stem and cerebellum. It responds to anything that threatens survival, such as hunger, and drives much of a child’s behaviour in their first year.
The limbic brain is concerned with emotions such as anger and joy, social relationships, memory and the stress response. It works closely with the lizard brain and is unaware of time.
The wise owl
The pre-frontal cortex, or thinking brain, helps children to learn, to have empathy, understand the concepts of past and future and problem solving. Children don’t have a fully fledged wise owl but instead a fluffy owlet that we help them develop into adulthood.
The three parts of the brain are all connected like the ancient baobab – a tree native to Madagascar, mainland Africa and Australia – sending messages and information between our body and brain.
Turn it around. If it is safe to walk and you have the time to do so, then you can take their hand and enjoy the walk, no bother. If it’s not safe or you don’t have the time you might say, “You can walk, when we get away from the noisy cars”. (You could put your hands over your ears here, or make a crazy car sound to make your child laugh which can pop the bubble of the “tantrum”). Or you can lay a “gentle boundary”: “I can SEE how much you want to walk! And you can – when we get to our street”; the baboon hears the word CAN and will calm down because again he/she feels heard… “mummy/daddy speaks my language!”… They’ll find it easier to wait then because they know they will get the chance to walk in a little while. Include plenty of scripts and suggestions for all the universal parenting issues – wanting a toy/chocolate/not to leave the park etc.
Ten minutes of one-to-one time daily and one golden hour weekly
Commit to 10 minutes a day without distraction or interruption, plus one hour a week per child for genuine quality time. You can find 10 minutes, because this is possibly one of the most important things you will ever do for your child, filling them with your love, time and attention.
Follow your child’s lead, they will show you what they want to do. As well as their daily 10-minute burst of attention, ideally also spend a full hour with each of them at least once a week. Again, they get to choose what to do (ideally no screens as the activity is something you can do together in an engaged way). Often this is all we need to repair the ruptures and challenges of a busy week.
Sibling rivalry and how to stop squabbles
Sibling rivalry has its roots in evolution; the fear our children experience when we bring a new child home is real and linked to their drive for survival. If your children squabble over details, buy two of the same, whether that be blue plates or pyjama designs. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
If your child is playing with a toy, and another child (sibling or child) asks for it, please don’t feel obliged to force them to hand it over. They will perceive you as favouring the other child and it implies their needs don’t matter as much as someone else’s. Instead, encourage (rather than force) your child to let the other person have a turn with the toy when they’ve finished with it.
Banish the ‘naughty step’
Neither punitive parenting nor permissive parenting work. Naughty steps and sending children to their bedrooms evokes feelings of shame. Leaving a child alone with their “too big” feelings doesn’t help them regulate their emotion: it tells them you won’t help them with their upset and being alone is a punishment. Humans respond to encouragement; they want to be part of the pack and as they are growing, doing and experiencing things for the first time they will inevitably make mistakes. Use the soothing stair instead – sit with your children in their more vulnerable moments and you will be building bonds that last for life.
Always say ‘yes’ to play
When was the last time you asked your child if they wanted to play? I always say yes to play; I know it’s too vital for me not to. And yes, sometimes my heart will sink when it’s late and I’m exhausted with a million other things to do. Play helps with children’s emotional growth and general mental health. We don’t have to do much: it’s about being there with and for our children.
Taking the initiative and asking your child to play will be one of the most rewarding and beneficial things you can do as a parent. If, the first time you ask, your child says “no”, then don’t worry: they will have received the message you’re open for playtime and will come back to you. Don’t give yourself a hard time if play feels alien to begin with; the key here is in the connection to you for short periods.
Sleep is the number-one priority in a parent’s life
We simply cannot be the parent we want without it. It will help you live your life in multicolour, rather than a deeper shade of grey. I know in the early weeks and months of being a parent it’s nigh on impossible. We all need support if we’re not to run ourselves into the ground. Work backwards to work out how to ensure as much sleep as you can. Prolonged lack of sleep can lead to serious medical conditions.
There’s No Such Thing As Naughty, by Kate Silverton (Little, Brown, £14.99) is out now