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10 Tips on Taming Tantrums

Ahh, the always-dreaded yet usually unavoidable tantrum. Also known as: meltdown; emotional overload; ‘Where did my sweet child go?!” Call it what you want, I’ve been there, done that. As have you, I’m sure. To top it off, they usually occur at the most inappropriate, inopportune times, right? Well, if they are bound to happen, rather than trying to avoid them completely, why not let them happen and simply tame them instead? Here’s what I suggest:

10. Take ten steps. This is a strategy I’ve used often with my own children. When you sense a tantrum on the verge of existence, encourage your child to take ten steps. For the first few times, I even join them in taking these steps. Sometimes we do ‘big elephant steps’ other times we take ‘quiet ballerina steps’ or even ‘little birdie steps’. Encourage them to count with you as you take the steps. Not only are you activating their imagination and practicing their counting skills, but you are also redirecting their tantrum and keeping it a bay.

9. Say a rhyme. Who doesn’t love a good one? Not only will it encourage language development, but it will also tame the tantrum because now their mind is focused on something entirely different that requires them to process information. I often try to encourage the rhyming of words relevant to actions. For example: “Let’s touch our heads.” “Now let’s find something red.” “Where’s your nose?” “Now can you touch your toes?”

8. Bust a move. Dancers love a good eight-count. As do children in distress. Life is about dancing through the rain, right? Movement is essential and beneficial for a variety of reasons—physical, mental, emotional—so why not share that with your youngster? And if there’s no music, make it up! Or better yet, allow them to dance to the beat in their own minds—the power of imagination is endless.

7. Listen to music. Somewhat in tandem with number 8, if you don’t have a beat in your head and can’t seem to make one, turn on some of your favorite tunes instead. Music can do so much for the mind and soul. Simply listen, sing along, sway, dance, close your eyes. Let them do what they want and need to as they listen to the music.

6. Have a bite to eat. There’s not much a favorite treat can’t fix! And no, I’m not suggesting we over indulge or resort to food every time there is a problem. But think about your own life. Do you pour a cup of coffee when mornings are rough? (Heck, I have one every morning!) Or what about that bite-size chocolate candy for an afternoon pick-me-up? Yes. So help calm their fears and intense emotions with a bite-size indulgence of their favorite treat.

5. Redirect their focus. Just think “shiny gold rings.” You know that famous holiday song that many of us know? We often forget most of the other lines but we never forget, “5 Golden Rings!” (Yes, I hope you just sang that!) That’s because they are shiny, sparkly and gold! In the eyes of children, things that are shiny, sparkly and gold are prone to attention, that is, the art of redirection! Take their mind off the intense emotions and redirect them with something else in the room. Direct them to look at something and ask them a particular question about it. Remember, in that moment, they can’t conceptualize why they are feeling the way they are. So, redirect to something unrelated until they are calm, then process after.

4. Drop to the floor. Literally. Get yourself on their level. Show them they aren’t alone. Live in the moment, or should I say tantrum, with them. They need to know it’s okay to feel. Of course, you can talk about what initiated the tantrum later and correct the misbehavior that caused it, but in the moment, their minds and bodies are scared, overwhelmed and unsure. Be their source of comfort and assurance. Be their safety net.

3. Say three little words. Think about all the language a young child encounters in one day. Even in one hour. Now think about all that is happening in their minds during a tantrum. Oy vey! The power of language is tenfold, ya’ll. And they only need a few words at a time. Try repeating a few of my favorite three word phrases to help tame the tantrum: I love you. You are okay. It is okay. You are brave. You are smart. You are strong.

2. Remember their age. Terrible Twos and Tricky Threes. Your child is two or three (maybe even four or five). Tantrums are a part of this stage of life. Children are just learning all about emotions, how to feel them, process them, express them. So, let them. Embrace the high-pitched screaming and the endless sobbing. Listen to the echoes of the their little feet stomping and fists pounding. Take a deep breath in. Now let it out. Count down, three, two…

1. Remember, the days are long, but the years are short. Someday when they are older you will be able to tell them about these moments and laugh along with them. So if all else fails, know that the tantrum will end.

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