5 Steps to Calm a Tantrum
"Wahhhhhhhhh! I don't want to leave!" It’s happened to every parent at one point or another. You’re leaving the house, or school, or a fun playground and, all of a sudden, BOOM! your over-tired, unhappy child flips into a hitting or screaming tantrum. Or a creative combination of both! You stand there—perhaps next to your husband who has a clueless look on his face (sorry, Dads!)—and wonder what to do. You feel helpless. How do you help your child stop and regroup? What do you do? Let's begin with a basic concept.
Meltdowns shut down your child’s ability to reason.
When your child is upset, she can no longer consciously process information. A flip has switched in the brain. It is time to calm her senses.
Simply stated, your child's ears are “turned off.”
The "switch" which toggles between sympathetic (relaxed and at rest) and parasympathetic (fight or flight response) is responsible for this sudden change. The brain flips that switch when it senses the extreme emotions of anger, fear, sadness, or even silliness.
This means that your child cannot hear you or process what is happening until he is calm and “centered.”
You can calm your child down by calming all of the senses, including the intuitive senses that sense unseen information. Here’s how.
Your Child's Right Brain Senses
First, it's important to be aware of the “right brain senses.” We have five senses. We also have five "frequency senses"—they slightly differ from the familiar five senses, and they are oh-so-important to pay attention to, when raising right brain children. The right side of the brain is intuitive and creative. It senses subtle energy currents and waves. It is influenced by frequencies in the environment. (If you have children on the autism spectrum, as I do, this will make much more sense to you as you read them!) Outer senses processes facts. Our inner senses process "vibrational facts"—information that vibrates, like subatomic particles, sound waves, color waves, and even thoughts and feelings. These vibrational facts are collected by the following sensory pathways. We label the collection of right brain senses: V-A-K-C-T, reminding us of the unseen data continually collected by the right brain.
The 5 “Right Brain” Senses Physical Senses V - visual (light waves, color) A - auditory (sound waves, music) K - kinesthetic (touch, taste, smell and movement) Subtle Senses C - sensitivity to chi and environment (electromagnetic energy currents and fields) T - sensitivity to thought and emotion (brain activity, heartbeats)
Want an easy way to remember this? Left brain: outer senses, which process tangible facts Right brain: inner senses, which process "vibrational facts," or VAKCTs
5 Steps to Calm a Tantrum
Step 1: Stay calm. Adjust your thoughts and emotions. This will be the anchor that will pull him back to center. Physically, your child will calm down more quickly when you can maintain a slow, steady heartbeat. Right-brain children are affected by frequency and your heart puts out a steady beat. It races when you are upset. It slows when you are calm. So, be at peace. Know that this melt-down is temporary, and what’s more, it is important for your child’s development—to experience his raw emotions with you, to learn to control them. Take a deep breath. Stay calm. Step 2: Find a private place. Find a cozy, calm, private space. If you can go to nature, this is best, but of course it is not always possible. If you are in a public place, you cannot always do anything about the “feeling” of the location, so just seek privacy for you and your child, even if it means walking back to your car.
Step 3: Hug, hold, or rock your child. Make sure that your hold is lovingly snug and firm—this is especially important for more hyperactive or kinesthetic children (children who need to continually move). This makes them feel safe. Step 4: Look and listen... and mirror back. Give full eye contact. Show concern, nodding as he shares.
VERBAL CHILDREN - Let your child voice his feelings. Mirror back what he is saying, without judgement. Criticism will only frustrate them more and keep them in the "off" mode. Child: I don't want to go! Adult: You are having fun. You don't want to leave your friend. Child: Yes. (My Mommy heard me and understands.)
NONVERBAL CHILDREN - If your child is too upset or unable to express what he is feeling, give him the words. You can intuit what he might be thinking and feeling. As soon as you hit on the right feeling, you will see an immediate shift. Child: [crying, kicking] Adult: I can see that you really didn’t want to stop playing. You are sad to leave the playground. Child: [stops crying and looks at parent] (My Mommy heard me and understands.)
Step 5: Affirm his right to his feelings. Use these phrases: “I hear you.” “Thank you for telling me.” “I understand.” They are non-judgmental, accepting ways of validating your child's feelings without agreeing with what they are saying. It's important to distinguish between agreeing with your child's statements and honoring his feelings. For example, if your child said, "I don't like grandma," your first instinct might be to comment or correct. "That's a terrible thing to say!" At this moment, remind yourself to focus on the feelings, not the issue--yet. There will be a time, but not now. You need to fill your child's "love tank" first. Once they are calm, then you can teach. So, instead of correcting, you can nod and say something like,"Thank you for telling me how you are feeling. What happened with grandma really made you angry just now, didn't it?!" Why affirm? Because as soon as you put words to what your child is feeling, and meet it with acknowledgement and understanding, you free your child to change his emotion.
After Your Child is Calm... Calmly Restate Your Position
Wait to teach, talk and firmly guide until after your child has returned to a calm state. Stay clear about your expectations, and please do not back down and give in. Keep to it. You can be fun and make it into a game, or laugh, joke or play with your child so that it is easier for them to obey. But, stay firm. Please be clear with yourself. Meltdowns are early power struggles—which, for your child's future well-being and character, you must lovingly win. That may be difficult if you want your child to like you at all times. (I was like that, for sure!) So many working mothers feel guilty for the time they cannot spend with their children and so this can feel even harder to do! But, the truth is, that the more healthy boundaries that you set for your child, the more they are able to develop their own character, which includes self control. Stay Strong If you give in to your child, it trains him to use these meltdowns to manipulate you, and they will only increase. So, please do stay strong! Remember what your original instruction was. Stick to it.
If you: (1) are firm with your instructions, (2) follow through with each "meltdown" in a patient, loving way ... then you will find that over time your child will develop self-control.
Your child will know that you love him and that "no means no," or "when it's time to leave, it is time to leave." Period. Be patient. Know that it will take time. But, if you are consistent, you will notice that the melt-downs gradually becoming less frequent and less intense. Time and practice will help your child come to manage and control his own emotions and reactions. Prevent Future Melt-Downs As right-brain parents, there are many things we can do to avoid power struggles. Here are a few examples:
RULES - set good, fair rules for your child's age/stage of development
PICTURES - place the rules on the wall and make a picture for each one
SING - sing songs that teach—"Let's put our toys away... To play another day..."
FUN - use funny reminders—"If you're very, very bright, you'll flush, wash, and turn out the light!"
STABILITY - stable/regular schedules
GIVE TIME - give time for transition children from activity to activity—"We'll be leaving in 5 minutes... 3 minutes.... 1 minutes... OK, blast off! It's time to go!"
LAUGH TOGETHER - have a good sense of humor
BE CREATIVE - tap into your child's imagination with challenging tasks—"Astronauts, put on your seat belts!"
These right-brain techniques all go a looooong way to eliminate head-to-head power struggles. Melt-downs and temper tantrums serve an important role and when they occur, they present you and your child with a vital learning opportunity. If you can look at each conflict in this manner, then you will be able to stay positive as a right-brain parent. Many children can learn self-control quite early when met with consistent understanding and love. Each meltdown is simply a raw set of emotions waiting to be understood and tamed. When children learn to tame these emotions, there is a great inner light that literally shines through!
To you & your child! Love, Pamela