I was really glad when I read the NY Times article Seeing Tantrums as Distress, Not Defiance By JENNY ANDERSON http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/seeing-tantrums-as-distress-not-defiance/.
This article is just what parents and children need. The writer poignantly shared what she learned with her readers. I hope many parents will tune-in to her lesson: Kids do the best they can to tell us what they need and how they feel. They are really not our to “get us.”
For example, “Wait, what? You mean those tantrums weren’t premeditated acts of defiance, planned in utero, rehearsed in private, and unleashed, at moments of maximum vulnerability, to crush an exhausted parent’s soul? You mean those shrieking outbursts weren’t part of some Secret Larger Plan to make me crazy?” The more she talked, the more I got it. The tears of rage and of frustration, she said, are nothing more than emotions run amuck in a brain that is not yet capable of self-regulation. Think of them as cries for help.
I not only think of tantrums as cries for help but also as teachable moments. We can help our kids understand what they are feeling, learn the words to express those feelings, then learn to calm themselves down with skillful attention to their underlying needs. In addition, parents can teach kids the feeling words and actions solve problems, make better decisions and communicate without tantrums. This all goes under the heading of ”Teaching Emotional Intelligence” and what I call ”Time-In” parenting.
Even when kids’ melt downs occur due to hunger, fatigue or illness, there is always some feeling lurking beneath the surface that our kids need help with. Most research shows that babies, toddlers, children of all ages need their parent’s help processing their feelings instead of time-outs or punishment. Children are trying to tell us how they feel the best way they know how. It is our job to teach them how to tell us what they are feeling in a better way so that we can help them.
“Cute as a button” one moment, “tiny terror” the next. What can you do?
It is up to us as parents to decode what our kids are saying and help them learn to use feelings words and new coping skills to decrease tantrums.
Many times you can address the feelings underlying the tantrum and offer behaviors that help calm and improve the situation. Empathizing with children also can help them calm down. “I see how disappointed you are.” “I know how hard it is for you to wait.” “I know how hurtful it can be when I don’t get you that item, or I didn’t want to play, because we have to shop.”
“I understand that you were mad at me for not spending enough time with you.” “ I know it’s hard to say goodnight, or goodbye but let’s try to use our words.” “Let’s practice talking instead of yelling.” Children’s feelings get hurt easily, so you can always say, ”I am sorry your feelings are hurt,” or “I am sorry that happened to you.” Add a hug at the beginning and the end if your child is open to it.
For more on how to help your kids see Listen To Me Please, Time-In Not Time-Out and My Feelings are Hungry books http://listentomeplease.com/
Teaching our kids Emotional Intelligence, a “Time-In” Not “Time-Out” parenting style, will help with tantrums and create a better tomorrow and healthier future.
For more on Emotional Intelligence and “Time-In not Time Out,” email Ava Parnass http://listentomeplease.com/ always happy to answer questions about how best to understand children’s behavior, that may seem so mysterious! Parenting is a very rewarding, yet hard job and we always strive to make it easier and more fun!
Characteristics of Emotionally healthy children: from site by S. Hein http://eqi.org/eidefs.htm
Learnbetter Have fewer behavior problems
Feel better about themselves
Are better able to resist peer pressure
Are less violent, more empathetic
Are better at resolving conflicts
Are less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior (drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy)
Have more friends Have better impulse control
Are better able to delay gratification
Are happier, healthier and more “successful”
(Based on research presented in Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence)
You can also Watch Feeling Town Video on teaching kids emotional intelligence.