We’ve all been there or seen it far too often. A crowded mall. A tired mum and her two kids trying to finish up some last minute grocery shopping. The boy wants an ice cream, and mummy says “No”. And then all hell breaks loose on the supermarket floor.
Before we were parents, we might have witnessed such scenes and thought to our naïve selves, “If I were that mother, I would just give the boy a hard smack and tell him to be quiet”. As parents, we know that such tactics rarely go down well with our kids, nor have any positive impact in terms of giving them handles for managing their emotions in future.
Too often, we find ourselves enraged by the inconvenience, embarrassment, illogicality, injustice of the moment and lose our cool too, and try to take back control of the situation with harsh words, yells or severe ultimatums. But is there a different way of managing the situation?
Here are strategies to help you the next time when your child is caught up in their anger or temper. Some might seem contradictory, and all are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but we say it really depends on the personality of your child and the context of his tantrum.
1. Stay factual
Lay down the facts. E.g. “You are really mad with mummy because you want to have another ice cream and I said ‘no’. You already had one scoop of ice cream, which is what I promised you. Maybe next time we come here, you can have a scoop of ice cream again, okay?”
2. Explain why
Sometimes children need a bit more help to understand the rationale for our “do” or “don’t do”, “yes” or “no”, so unpack it for them. E.g. “Ice cream has a lot of sugar, and too much sugar is really bad for your body. I don’t want you to be sick or unhealthy, so I don’t want you to eat so much sugar at one go. Do you understand?”
3. Talk at eye level
To a young child, a standing adult can seem to tower above him – formidable and frightening. We recommend that you always try to get down to your child’s eye level when you are talking to him – temper tantrum or otherwise. Nobody likes to be talked down to, kids included.
4. Give him options
A direct and abrupt “now” or “no” can spark off a huge protest. Find ways to avoid saying “no”, such as by naming the options that he does have. E.g. “You can’t have any more ice cream today, but you can have ice cream again the next time we come.” Or “You can choose your flavor for next time you come if you want. Then you’ll have to remember which flavor to order when we come back again.”
5. Break eye contact
If talking to him isn’t helping the situation, sometimes the best thing you can do is to break off eye contact and stop berating your child. Instead just carry on doing whatever it is you were going to do, such as packing to leave the store or paying the bill. It’s not about ignoring your child per se, but more about not paying attention to his tantrum.
6. Let him rage
Sometimes, a tantrum can cross over into a meltdown, which is when your child feels completely overwhelmed by the force of his emotions and can’t take in any new information for the moment. You may notice your child squeezing his eyes shut or blocking his ears with his hands. When your child is having one of these meltdowns, the best thing you can do is make sure he is somewhere safe, and let him get the anger out of his system. If you are at home, a bed or sofa is a good place to put him; if you are at a shopping mall, bring him aside to a quiet corner or back to the car.
7. Give him a hug
There’s something very calming about a hug. A hug releases a powerful hormone called oxytocin in your bodies that inexplicable draws you both closer in solidarity. Your child needs to know that you are on his side, trying to help him cope with his pain. You are not the enemy. That said, if your child is still in meltdown mode, do not hug at this point. For one, it would be useless since he’s already over-stimulated. For another, he might hurt you if he’s kicking or jerking around. Wait until he has calmed down.
8. Talk about how both of you could handle things better next time
It’s one thing to work things out in the heat of the moment, but how do you prevent it from happening it again next time? In a calmer moment, such as later that day, or even the next day, ask your child what would help him to manage his frustrations and anger better. After all, these feelings are perfectly normal and will come and go many times over, but we can all grow in learning how to process these emotions and respond appropriately. Coach your child in being socially and self-aware, so that he is better equipped to avoid similar scenarios in the future.
What are some of the strategies you use to calm your angry child?
By Dorothea Chow
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