Children seem to know EXACTLY how to push our buttons. So how do you keep your reactions calm and collected in the heat of the moment?
Please note, if your child has a medical need which affects their communication, self regulation or other areas of development then you may require more specialist advice than this article provides – this article is a written as a general guide offering generalised support.
I believe that even the most calm and patient of us have been brought to a point where we can feel the red mist ascending from deep within us. Our blood starts to boil, and the tension in our bodies feels overwhelming. So how do we deal with it when our precious children are the root cause of our anger and frustration?
Nobody intends to get frustrated with their children. We are all just parents trying to find our way in life, figuring out how to manage this parenting journey as we go. If you get angry with your children, you are not a bad parent, and you are certainly not alone! You are not a robot, and it is healthy to express your emotions. But, I am sure that if you were given the choice, you would prefer to be able to handle things calmly with your child most of the time rather than getting into a frustrating battle of wills; it’s just that sometimes, in the heat of the moment, it is very hard to keep your emotions under control.
Anger is a normal emotion, but it is what you do with those feelings that makes the difference for you and your child. If you have got yourself into a routine of getting very angry or upset when your child has a tantrum, there are some hints below which can help you manage your own feelings more effectively. I recommend changing just one thing at a time, as this will make your journey more easy to manage. I also recommend talking with your child about your situation (if they are old enough), and get their opinions on what could make it better. (More hints improving your child’s behaviour can be found here).
Why do children tantrum?
Since they were born, our children have been trying to get a response from us in one way or another. From the new born night screaming, to torturous toddler tantrums and beyond, our children are experts at getting our attention. This serves a biological need for young children, after all, they rely on us to survive: getting us to react to their needs is vital for food, warmth and shelter.
Tantrums in younger children can often be caused by an inability to express themselves effectively in the given situation. It is totally normal for young children to struggle with communicating: they are still increasing their vocabulary and learning about the range of methods to communicate with others. A child who tantrums often may also be struggling to regulate their emotions and how they react to certain situations, which again is very normal for young children. I’m sorry to say this to you parents, but if you have a young child, you will probably experience tantrums at some point. Hang in there!
However, as children grow, so does their understanding of the word around them. This includes the way people around them will react to certain situations, and how they can best have their needs met. This is usually positive, such as learning that using the word ‘please’ will probably make their request more happily received, or understanding that giving a hug will usually make the receiver feel better. But on occasion, children can learn unhelpful ways to express their needs and desires, such as tantrums, whining and aggression. They have inadvertently learned that having a strop has a good chance of getting them what they want. This can sometimes be the reason why older children continue to tantrum, and children still usually need support to develop their social skills and regulate their emotions. (Please see my other article for more information on what your moaning or difficult child might be trying to communicate).
Why is it beneficial to stay calm during a tantrum?
Although stress can be beneficial, excessive stress is no good for any of us – the negative affects on our bodies are well documented: it can cause insomnia, headaches and weight gain amongst many other things. It often makes us feel some pretty unpleasant emotions after we have got ourselves wound up by our kids too, such as regret, shame and guilt. It can also start to become our default mode of dealing with tantrums as our body gets used to responding this way – and sometimes this happens without us even realising: before you know it, your go to response is anger and shouting.
But when you frequently get stressed with your children and display anger and frustration, they can also experience some negative affects. Without meaning to, you are teaching your own children that anger is a reasonable way to deal with a difficult situation, and you are setting them up to repeat the same behaviour with their peers, and eventually their own children – it is very hard to break the habits we learn in childhood. Excessive anger also lets your children know you have lost control of the situation, and portrays the message to them that you cannot cope with their behaviour. It can also cause a build up of feelings such as resentment, anger and frustration in your child, as lets face it, nobody really likes being shouted at.
How can I cope with my own anger during my child’s tantrum?
Recognise your trigger. Maybe there is a certain behaviour, face or noise your child makes that really pushes your buttons. Take a quiet moment to really consider why it gets to you so much, and whether there is a different way you could approach this situation. The more awareness you have of the things that are going to make your really angry, the more you can anticipate the negative feelings and the more able you will be to find a healthy way to express them.
Breathe. When the anger starts to rise in you, close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths in and out. When you reopen your eyes, try to recognise the negative feelings in your body and accept how you are feeling. This can help you feel calmer and more in control of your emotions, which will help you feel more confident and capable to deal with the challenging situation at hand.
Think about the outcome you would like to achieve from your situation, and how you will get there. Considering your current situation and focussing on the solution rather than the problem can support you to think more clearly about your situation, and put positive use to your anger and frustration. For example, phrasing your thoughts positively, such as ‘I want my child to understand they cant do X/Y/Z and to accept it’ gives you a focus on how you will get them to accept the circumstances i.e. by explaining.
Name your emotions. When our emotions are taking over, it can be easy to just let them build up until they become unmanageable and burst out. But expressing your feelings in specific words can help you release some of the tension. Saying specific phrases such as ‘I am feeling angry because…’ or ‘I feel really frustrated when…’ helps to release some of the pent up frustration you are feeling, without losing control.
Walk away. If you can feel yourself about to lose it, just walk away from the situation for a few moments, and take some deep breaths. Unless your children are in a dangerous situation, it is not going to do them any harm for you to leave them for a short time, however it could do harm to your relationship if you lose it with them, as well as harm your emotional state.
Find an outlet for your frustrations. In a moment of anger, it can be helpful to have something which helps you release and redirect your anger. Over the years I have heard people make a range of suggestions, such as screaming into a pillow or squeezing their little finger tightly. Whatever it is that helps you to calm down is a positive thing, as long as it is not harming you or your child. Sometimes, a hobby can be really relaxing, and can even build your bond with your child at the same time. (For hobby ideas which you can do with your child, see this article).
Question what is really making you angry. If you are frequently getting angry with your children, it might be a good time to reflect on the root cause of your anger. Ask yourself questions such as ‘what am I so angry about?’ and ‘is there anything I could do to change my reaction to this so I am not so angry?’. If you have unchallenged demons from your own past, you can sometimes find they create problems for your present and future. Give this some careful consideration, and make a plan of action if necessary.
Look after yourself. It is hard to be a good parent when you are not feeling good yourself. Make sure you find time in your busy schedule to consider yourself too – parents often spend a huge proportion of their day caring for others, and it can become habit to forget your own needs. Do something you enjoy regularly, even if it is just watching TV in your pyjamas – it is not the activity that is important, but the sense of peace and relaxation you get from it. With very small children it can be difficult to find time, but you have to use the pockets of time you can find, even if it 5 minutes during a nap time. The cleaning will still be there tomorrow! Sometimes, you must think of yourself – it will benefit everyone.
Hopefully, this article has helped you to feel more confident in your own abilities to stay calm and collected during your child’s tantrums. Remember, we’ve all lost our cool at times and there is no shame in that – let your children know that you are sorry if you have overreacted, hug it out, and move on. You can do this! The fact that you are even here reading this blog means you care – you are doing a great job.
Let me know how you get on in the comments below – I would love to hear your success stories and improvements, as well as areas you are still finding challenging.
Love, Heather x
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