Tantrums, or what I prefer to call emotional meltdowns, are all part and parcel of life with a little person. Whilst they are understandably frustrating, embarrassing, annoying, deafening (or insert your own feeling here), they are perfectly normal, and I hope it reassures you when I say: you are not doing anything wrong, there is nothing wrong with your little one, and they are 100 per cent NOT an reflection of your parenting skills!
Emotional meltdowns happen when a child feels HUGE emotions; their emotions can be scary and feel just too big for them, which causes them to lose control. Once at this point, they are unable to regain control without some emotional support or input from you. Scientifically speaking, the frontal cortex of their brain that is responsible for controlling their emotions is not yet fully developed and they cannot control or regulate their emotions. There are many reasons why your little one will go into full meltdown mode, but here are a few of my finest mega moments:
  • They realised I cut up their sausage AFTER they had finished eating it
  • I wouldn’t let them use their poo as play dough (don’t ask!)
  • It wasn’t safe at three years old for them to drive on the motorway
  • Their sibling got more baked beans than them, EVEN though they hate baked beans
I am pretty sure you could all add something spectacular to this list! As a grown-up, these things don’t seem like a big deal to us; but for a little one, they are kind of big deal and it is so easy to forget that at times.
These meltdowns can occur at any age and are not just limited (unfortunately!) to the famous “terrible twos”; however, there is a huge difference between a baby or child crying and having a full-on meltdown. Young babies do not have tantrums; they just cry to communicate their needs the only way they know how.
Meltdowns are not an indication of a naughty or spoilt child with a terrible temper to match, and there is no need to discipline them for having feelings. However, the behaviour from a tantrum isn’t always acceptable if they hit, kick or bite. (Watch out for my next article!)
Sadly, I do not have a one-size-fits-all solution or a magic wand to stop a meltdown in its tracks, because children are all beautifully unique and, let’s be honest here, it also depends very much on which way the wind is blowing in that moment! They are most common when a child is tired and/or hungry, so trying to keep to a simple nap-and-feeding routine can really help. Coming to recognise the triggers and seeing the signs can sometimes be enough to even head one off (or at least soften the blow) and stop a big one brewing.
For when one takes you by surprise, here is all you need to know about supporting you and your little one through even the worst of meltdowns:
  • Try to remember that your child isn’t deliberately giving you a hard time; THEY are having a hard time.
  • Try to see the situation through their eyes, and show empathy to how they are feeling. Just doing this can go a long way to support and stop them when they feel they have been heard.
  • Say clearly to them, “I see you're feelings have got too big for you, I am here, ready when you are".
  • If you are out in public - as hard as it is try to ignore the onlookers, tuts and stares - if it is causing a genuine disturbance to the general public, then it is reasonable for you to pick up or place your child in a buggy and get out of there, as the child will be unable to do that for themselves at this point.
  • Keep your voice low and soothing when you speak, and resist the urge to shout even louder to be heard. We are the adults; and if we shout, we have lost control and it all will just escalate even further!
  • Try not get sucked into a battle - try reasoning or bargaining with them. A child in full meltdown-mode will be unable to comprehend it all at this point, and it makes it last longer.
  • Acknowledge and allow them to own their feelings no matter how trivial or silly it may seem to you, even the negative ones. Do this by labelling their feelings and the situation for them. For example, 'I can see you are frustrated/angry/mildly/sad annoyed that the sausage has been eaten/you can’t drive the car/the beans are on your toast'. ALL feelings are valid, and sometimes just having your feelings understood and heard is enough.
  • Keep your language clear and simple, and try not to ask question after question!
  • Don’t exclude or isolate them just because they have an emotion. It is healthy and normal to have these emotions, and we need to teach them to deal with their emotions in a healthy way and not suppress them.
  • Give them space, but be available if they need contact to calm down. Tempting as it is to say 'I will only cuddle you when you stop crying/shouting/being frustrated', that is teaching them that these normal feelings aren’t acceptable and can prolong the meltdown.
  • If they are mid-meltdown and don’t want to be cuddled, touched or held; respect that and step back to give them space.
  • Once the meltdown has passed, don’t dwell on it or ask why they behaved like that - they will not have a clue why. They should not have to justify their feelings, but they do need to learn acceptable ways to vent them.
It may take some getting used to doing but, with practice (and you should get lots with a toddler!), you will be surprised how quickly it becomes easy and like second nature to you. This will help ease the frustration of your toddler and, hopefully, make the meltdowns fewer and further apart.
If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour, the number of tantrums your child has, or would like some tailored support for you and your little one; please get in touch at www.kerrycaresparenting.com or hello@kerrycaresparenting.com.
Parent Coach



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