Why Your Tears will Not Sway Me - An Ode to a Child and Their Tantrum

Let's talk tantrums and tears. It sounds like a cool new band you'd want to listen to but believe me, it's not. Every child is bound to have them but the way a caregiver reacts will determine whether or not that child will continue to use tantrums as a bargaining tool to get what they want. 

Stomping feet. Alligator tears. Threats to never love you again. We've all seen this (or at least heard it several aisles over from the toy section in any Target). Tantrums happen and they're usually not pretty but what I think is worse is how a caregiver usually responds to them. We've been conditioned to fear the ever prying eyes of judgmental strangers who might call child services if they're dramatic enough to think that refusing to purchase your child a toy is a crime. Or we've all been in a home setting where you're just DONE and this tiny monster screaming in front of you is the final straw. Giving in seems like the easiest thing. But parenting ISN'T easy and tantrums are one of those places where I say screw "picking your battles" - I will never give in to a tantrum.

I am that person in the store that is calmly standing there, watching my accompanying child throw a fit. I am that person who reacts to a tantrum by walking away and making a cup of tea. I mentally put on headphones and think about the most pleasant thing I can - usually eating a baked good in silence. A long time ago, I made a decision that I would be the victor each and every time in the battle of wits that is a tantrum. And believe me - that's all a tantrum is. A child is having a valid emotional reaction with the expectation that THEIR outcome is the ONLY outcome and when that's challenged, they fight back. Now it's not even about the valid emotion anymore but the desire to get their way and that's why I refuse to give in. Because we don't get our way with tears and tantrums - that's simply not how life works. 

So what should you do? How do you handle a complete meltdown? It's easier than you think. First, calmly state that you won't be screaming so as soon as they calm down, you can talk about the situation. Once they've calmed, tell them that they are allowed to have those feelings, that you understand why they're having those feeling but the XYZ is still not going to happen and if they continue to throw a tantrum, a consequence will happen (i.e. no show, a special toy being taken away, etc). If your child starts up again, let them cry. Stand there and be calm or if you're in your house, walk away. Feeding into the tantrum is feeding into the fire and your child might turn up the antics for a real show. Most likely, your child will eventually calm down. Once they calm down, make sure you give them a hug and remind them that you understand it's tough to not get your way but it's a part of becoming a big kid and that next time, they should save themselves the trouble because you won't be responding to their tantrums. Then go about your business as usual.

The only time I step in with a loud voice or physically is if the child starts breaking or throwing things or responds with violence. These temper tantrums are a bit harder to navigate. It might seem intense to physically restrain a child but that's sometimes what you have to do. I recommend holding both their arms down towards their sides with both of your hands while you squat in front of them. That way you can restrain them safely while being eye to eye with them, able to address them. Firmly say "I will NOT tolerate violence of any kind and if you continue to react like this, there will be the consequence of XYZ. Do you understand?" Only let go once the child confirms they do understand. Lifting up your child and carting them away isn't safe for anyone, especially if you're in public. I've seen kids kick passerby because their legs are up in the air, flailing about. If they continue, restrain them until they have safely calmed down and make sure you actually uphold your end of the bargain and enact your consequence. They'll learn real quick that not only is a tantrum not the way to go but that you mean business. 

Most of all, remain calm and remain strong. Even in public - don't feel embarrassed. You should NEVER feel embarrassed for parenting your child and that's exactly what you're doing. Yes, your child is being loud and yes, some people might stop and stare but I've actually had other people come up and tell me that they were impressed with how I handled a tantrum situation. Kids will be kids and they are dealing with complex emotions - IT HAPPENS! But the worst thing you can do is give in. If you give in, you start a Pavlovian Circle - you've Pavlov'd your child into having a tantrum in order to get what they want and your child has Pavlov'd you into giving in to a tantrum every time. It's not healthy for anyone. The first few tantrums can be tough but I can now still a tantrum with one steely calm look. My kids know that's not the way they are going to get what they want so why even bother. They can then come and talk to me or even try and negotiate, which I'm much more likely to respect and respond positively to. We've now developed a healthy relationship of talking things out and they've gained a better understanding on how to control those intense emotions, no tears necessary.

How do you deal with your child's outbursts?