little girl at family event having tantrum

De-escalating Tantrums

Dealing with tantrums, or sudden/severe behaviors at any age can be one of the more frustrating aspects about parenting. Often, we find ourselves engaged in this tug of war, a battle of the wills. However, here is the interesting thing about this game of tug of war. If we simply drop the rope, we are the ones left standing.  Here are some tools to help us avoid these power struggles and help youth regain control of their emotions in a nurturing way.

Express Empathy

Expressing empathy is all about connection, rather than control. Genuine empathy can disarm the combativeness. Rather than going head-to-head, it’s more effective to act as a teammate, ready to attack the problem instead of the person.

Describe Negative Behavior

Children are incredibly good at derailing the conversation to be about anything and everything, except the current problem: their behavior. During intensive episodes, it’s important to avoid talking about the context of the situation and stick to what we observe. Use facts and be as specific as you can! It’s so easy for parents to get dragged down the rabbit hole and start engaging in theological discussions about fairness, who’s right, or where the child falls on the ‘loved’ spectrum compared to other siblings. Of course, these may be important issues that may need to be addressed or validated. However, it will be much more constructive to wait until the child is calm rather than in the middle of a tantrum.

Give a Small Instruction

Next, it’s helpful to give a small instruction to help the child regain control of their emotions. It’s important to phrase the instruction positively. The minute we tell them not to do something, the instinct is to do the complete opposite. Some examples could include ‘take three deep breaths’, ‘use an indoor voice’ or ‘keep your hands to yourself.’

Praise Any Good Behavior

It may seem counterintuitive to praise a child in the midst of what some may classify as a ‘demonic rage’. However, this is one of the quickest ways to help the child become calm. If they comply with your instruction, quiet down, or refrain from hitting or kicking, these things are most definitely praiseworthy! Make sure to be as specific as possible.

There is no magic formula that automatically cures our children of all tantrums until the end of time. Don’t be discouraged if it seems like the behavior is going on forever, or may even seem to be getting worse. This is normal. If you consistently stick to these four steps when dealing with tantrums, within the matter of a few weeks you will see a noticeable decrease in the frequency, duration, and severity of these escalated behaviors. You’ve got this, and best of luck to you all!

Maggie Noyes is a trainer at Utah Foster Care.