Managing a toddler or a child having a meltdown is never going to be straight forward, and it's never going to be easy. Children are uniquely gifted at throwing their bodies and pitching their screams just so, that it quickly becomes unbearable for everyone involved. It is at once overwhelming and frustrating, and controlling yourself can be as challenging as dealing with your child. It is essential that we learn how to stay calm during a child's tantrums, because if you blow up, your child is only going to meltdown that much faster.
Tantrums are just a fact of life for toddlers. They get overwhelmed or angry, and they have no idea what to do with all of those huge emotions inside their tiny bodies, and so they explode with them. They fling their bodies to the ground like so much cement, and wail and scream their displeasure to the world, at top volume, sometimes repeating words in public that you really wish they didn't know. In short, it's a lot. Marriage and Family Therapist Susan Stiffleman wrote in her book Parenting Without Power Struggles that it is crucial that parents remain calm, confident, and composed in the face of a tantrum. The first way parents can do this? Hold off the temptation to push back against the tantrum. Let it happen.
Tantrums, especially in toddlers and younger kids, are going to happen. They are as guaranteed as death and taxes. Until children learn coping strategies, they can and do flip out. When my son was a toddler, he was a very sensitive little guy. It did not take much to set him off. While he rarely had tantrums in public — he hated people looking at him — in the car or at home, he detonated. There were times when I thought he would never stop screaming. His face would be completely puce, a rictus of anger and confusion, and I felt helpless. When I feel helpless and backed into a corner, I want to tantrum. My blood pressure spikes, and I really want to yell. Staying calm felt impossible, and honestly, I wasn't always successful. Sometimes I sat and cried with him.
But other times, when I was less maxed out, I would dip into my pocket of zen, and step back. I would make sure he was safe, and step back, breathing deeply, while letting him have at it for a moment so that I might compose myself, so long as he wasn't engaging in any harmful behaviors. Educator Mary Santelman wrote in the North American Montessori Teachers' Association that sometimes, parental reflection is necessary to bring the child out of the behavior. She wrote that parents need to connect with their own feelings before they can properly respond to their children. Understand why it is that they're lashing out, and you're better equipped to manage the tantrum.
Stiffleman argued that parents are the captains of the ship, and therefore must remain calm at all costs. That means figuring out why the tantrum is so frustrating for you. Is it because you feel that this tantrum is a parental failure, or that it reflects poorly on you? Toddlers and children have tantrums, and Stiffleman wrote that as long as you are providing your children with the structures, feedback, and routine needed for them to thrive, they are just the quotidian realities of parenting. Sometimes, kids get too excited, and sometimes, like all of us, they are just being jerks.
Parenting expert Janet Lansbury suggested visualization — imagine yourself as someone who doesn't give a flip about tantrums. (Personally, I'm going with Black Widow, as she is just a cool operator at all times.) I use visualization with my anxiety a lot, and I have found that it really helps. However, if you have tried taking deep breaths, removing yourself from the situation, visualizing your calmer self, and it is still not working, you might need to phone a friend. Call in your partner, or your mom, and accept the help. If it's a regular occurrence, you might want to call in a therapist or your pediatrician to make sure that something deeper isn't at fault. Parenting is messy, but tantrums don't always have to be.