A friend of mine asked me why her child was being so bad. She was wondering how she should respond to her daughter’s disobedience. I asked her to tell me more about what was going on.
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Her toddler was having multiple tantrums a day, and it was wearing her down. She was struggling to keep her cool during tantrums, and running out of strategies for responding to the outburst. She tried bribing her daughter, sending her to a time-out, and even spanking her, but nothing worked, and it didn’t feel right.
My friend reached out to her friends and family for advice. Here’s what she was told:
- “Ignore the outbursts, and they’ll go away.”
- “I ignored your fits when you were a kid, and you turned out fine.”
- “If you don’t ignore her, she’ll walk all over you!”
My friend followed this advice and started ignoring the tantrums. But, they didn’t stop. Instead, they are more frequent and intense.
She felt like she was failing as a parent because the relationship with her daughter felt so disconnected.
Why Ignoring Tantrums Isn’t Effective
Many people believe one or more of the following are true:
- Tantrums are a child’s way of manipulating a caregiver.
- Tantrums are the result of poor parenting.
- Tantrums can be completely prevented.
- Tantrums are always attention-seeking.
- Kids have tantrums because they’re “bad” or “defiant.”
- Ignoring tantrums will make them stop or go away.
However, these are misconceptions. Let’s understand why these are misconceptions and how we can respond to tantrums in a more supportive and effective way.
Here are 3 reasons why ignoring a child’s tantrum isn’t effective:
- Toddlers don’t have the ability to regulate their own emotions. They often need a caregiver to co-regulate and to help them learn how to manage their emotions. By ignoring a tantrum without any guidance or support, the child may struggle to develop healthy emotional regulation strategies.
- Ignoring your child’s tantrums can negatively impact their emotional health, well-being, and relationship with their caregivers. Ignoring their tantrum makes them feel alone, isolated, and helpless, and without a caregiver’s acknowledgement and validation, a child will struggle to build trust, connection, and security in the relationship. Consistently ignoring tantrums without providing appropriate comfort and guidance can contribute to feelings of distress, insecurity, or heightened frustration.
- Ignoring a child’s tantrums without addressing their underlying needs doesn’t shift their challenging behaviour in the long term because we aren’t getting to the root of the struggle. You may see less of the behaviour you are ignoring, but other challenging behaviours might pop up in their place!
The Power of Emotion Coaching
When my friend came to me for advice, I taught her about “emotion coaching.” Rather than ignoring tantrums, emotion coaching is an approach that involves acknowledging and validating a child’s emotions while helping them to understand and regulate their emotions effectively.
Emotion coaching can have a significant impact on the way caregivers respond to tantrums because it provides the following:
- Strong emotional connection between caregivers and children.
- Emotional awareness and language for children.
- Teaches children to find solutions to problems.
- Helps children learn to cope with feelings and challenging situations.
- Fosters emotional resilience in children.
By adopting an emotion coaching approach, parents can respond to tantrums in a way that supports emotional development, strengthens the parent-child bond, and builds healthy coping skills.
It’s important to note that emotion coaching is not something we just do once or twice. Children will need to be coached through their emotions for quite some time before you start seeing change.
How to Implement Emotion Coaching During a Tantrum
Implementing emotion coaching during a child’s tantrum involves several steps. Here’s a 3-step framework for applying emotion coaching techniques during a tantrum.
Step 1: Sportscasting
My husband and I love to watch Formula 1 on race weekends. When I started watching Formula 1, I knew absolutely nothing about it. It was just a bunch of cars racing around. But, while I watched, my husband would narrate out loud to me exactly what was happening. He would tell me about the different teams, their strategies, and why the cars were pit-stopping, and he would explain who all the drivers were. After weeks and months of listening to him narrate the races, I could describe what was happening during a race to my daughter.
Just like listening to my husband’s sportscasting of Formula 1 gave me the tools to do the same for my daughter, when we sportscast our kids’ emotions to them, we eventually give them the words to describe what is going on for them!
When you are sportscasting your child’s emotions, imagine that you are just explaining exactly what is happening to them. This helps them begin to connect the dots between what they are feeling and what they are doing. Sportscasting is the first step to giving them the words to eventually describe their emotions to you!
Here are a few examples:
“You really wanted the blue bowl, but your sister had it. You were upset with your sister, and you felt mad! It was hard to stay calm. You hit the bowl out of her hands. Do I have that right?”
“You really wish you didn’t have to go to bed. You want to stay up late. It’s tough to stop playing with your toys and go to bed.”
“It was really loud in Aunt Mary’s house. It was so loud that you started to feel like you needed to cover your ears. When that didn’t work, you felt like yelling.”
Step 2: Wait
Allow your child time and space to release all of their feelings. Avoid adding extra words and instead, focus on being a calm presence.
This might look like:
- Offering a hug or holding them while they release their tears.
- Sitting quietly beside them.
- Gently placing a pillow or cushion under their body so they don’t hurt themselves.
Waiting is so important because it offers your child an opportunity to co-regulate with you and build emotional regulation skills. You’re helping your child learn that they can cope with uncomfortable feelings.
Step 3: Connect
Once your child is calm, you can discuss what happened. After having a chance to release their feelings, your child is teachable! This would be the perfect time to communicate a boundary or offer a creative yes!
This might sound like:
- “I noticed it was hard for you to wait. Next time you can place your hand on my elbow while I’m talking, and I’ll know you need me.”
- “You were upset because you peed in your pants. You didn’t want to tell me you had to go potty because you were having fun. Why don’t we use a secret handshake next time so I know when you have to go pee?”
Keep in mind that it’s important to tailor your approach to your child’s individual needs and development. Consistency and repetition will help your child internalize the skills and strategies for managing their emotions effectively over time.
The Long-Term Benefits of Responding Positively to Tantrums
Responding positively to tantrums can have several long-term benefits for both the child and the parent-child relationship. Here are some of the key, long-term benefits:
Emotional Regulation Skills
- Responding positively to tantrums helps children develop healthy emotional regulation skills.
- Children learn to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions effectively when parents provide empathy, validation, and guidance during tantrums.
- This response equips them with lifelong skills for navigating a wide range of emotions in a healthy and adaptive manner.
Communication and Trust
- Positive responses to tantrums foster open communication and trust between parents and children.
- When parents validate a child’s emotions and provide support during tantrums, it creates a safe space for the child to express their feelings.
- This response encourages open dialogue and strengthens the parent-child bond, establishing a foundation of trust and understanding.
- Positive responses to tantrums present opportunities for teaching problem-solving skills.
- Parents can help children identify the triggers and underlying needs behind the tantrum, and together, they can explore strategies for resolving conflicts or finding solutions.
- This response nurtures children’s problem-solving abilities and empowers them to navigate challenges effectively.
- By responding positively to tantrums, parents support their children’s emotional intelligence development.
- It can help your child recognize and understand their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
- Positive responses to tantrums can enhance a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
- When children feel validated, supported, and understood during an outburst, they learn that their emotions and experiences are valid.
It is important to note that responding positively to tantrums does not mean ignoring inappropriate behaviour or letting the child have their way. Positive responses to tantrums are not passive responses. This approach actively teaches a child new, healthier ways to cope or interact with their world while nurturing the parent-child relationship.
The Importance of Dealing with Your Own Frustrations
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” – L.R. Knost
During a tantrum, your job is to lend your calm to your child. Repeated exposure to YOU being calm when your child is having a tantrum is how they learn to find their own calm.
This is definitely easier said than done.
Sometimes it feels easier to ignore our child’s tantrum rather than having to be their calm for them because tantrums can be really exhausting.
If you are going to shift from ignoring your child’s tantrum to emotion coaching your child, there are a few mindset shifts that can be super helpful:
- My child is a good child having a hard time.
- I don’t have to agree with my child’s feelings to allow them.
- My child isn’t trying to give me a hard time; they are having a hard time.
- This is a whole human, who I love, and who needs me right now.
My friend noticed a significant shift after using emotion coaching with her daughter. Her daughter was still having tantrums, but as the parent, she was able to keep her cool. Having a plan in place gave her the confidence she needed to respond to the outbursts more effectively while preserving her relationship with her daughter.
You’re not alone if you’re struggling with keeping your cool during tantrums and have been advised to ignore your child’s outbursts. If you’ve felt overwhelmed by your little one’s outbursts, and ignored your child during a tantrum, you’re not failing as a parent.
It’s important to remember that every parent is going to have moments where their child’s tantrums are overwhelming. This doesn’t make you a bad parent. The fact that you’re reading this blog and taking the time to learn more about your child is a sign that you care!
- Ignoring tantrums can lead to more extreme and frequent outbursts because it doesn’t help children learn to regulate their emotions.
- Toddlers and preschoolers require their caregiver’s help to learn how to manage emotions.
- Emotion coaching is a caring approach that recognizes and validates a child’s feelings and supports them in understanding and managing their emotions effectively.
- Emotion coaching is not a quick fix but an iterative process that needs consistent practice over time to produce changes.
- Responding positively to tantrums enhances a child’s emotional regulation skills, communication, trust, problem-solving abilities, and emotional intelligence, and boosts self-esteem and confidence.
- Maintaining calm during your child’s tantrum is crucial as it models emotional regulation, but this can be difficult.