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How to deal with temper tantrums. A parenting right of passage it would seem. And yet, some of us have it so much harder than others. Some of us have THOSE tantrums. The ones the ‘lucky’ parents see happening in a store and cannot even begin to understand. BUT! Any tantrum sucks to deal with. The typical ones and the atypical ones. As a momma who has handled thousands of atypical, earth-shattering, mind-bending tantrums… I have some tips.
For those of you that don’t know, one of my children was handed a stack of mental disorder diagnoses last year. The chief one being Bipolar 1. When he got old enough for his fits to be considered tantrums, I knew something was wrong. I would tell people my concerns, and typically they would tell me I was being ridiculous. Welp, knowing what we know now… I wasn’t being ridiculous. I was right. But those years of trying EVERY. SINGLE. THING. taught me quite a bit. Especially when it comes to how to deal with temper tantrums. Here are my thinks.
You’re a human too
This is probably one of the biggest oversites when reading about how to deal with temper tantrums. Typically, YOUR response/ feelings/ emotional needs/ etc. are either glossed over or completely ignored. Funny thing though, we parents are not emotional robots who can completely control ourselves at all times. Sure, we’re better at it than kids, but we’re by no means able to shut off feelings/needs/emotions like a light switch.
Let me take this moment to tell you something very important.
It is ok to get frustrated, to yell, to throw a tantrum yourself, and to ‘do it wrong’. Because the MOST IMPORTANT PART of handling any tantrum is what comes AFTER. If you demonstrate an appropriate apology, lessons learned, and remorse then you are teaching your kid a much more valuable lesson than ‘adults are emotional robots’. You’re teaching them how to grow from the ugly.
You don’t have to be perfect
This goes hand in hand with the whole ‘adults are humans too’ thought. Perfection doesn’t exist. Yes, consistency with kids is important. No, if you mess up here and there it won’t undo all the progress you’ve made. Honestly, all that progress will go out the window with the next growth spurt or season change anyway. Here’s the other part of the ‘perfection’ trap. Your perfect and someone else’s perfect aren’t the same. The teacher will be different than you. Your child will have to learn that tantrums will not always elicit the same results and responses.
Think of it this way: if you’re 100% consistent and perfect in handling your child’s tantrums you are setting them up for failure in the real world. Because that is not how the real world works. Give yourself and break and be less than perfect already!
I have to do this more than I care to admit. The blood is rushing to my face, my hands are shaking, and I’m about to throw my own tantrum as I watch my son throw himself around a room like a ragdoll screaming and crying because we have to leave the house. I can’t handle it, so I walk away. I go as far away as I can while keeping him within earshot.
Of course, I cannot always do this. If he is in danger of hurting himself, others, or a pet I have to stay. But if that’s not the case I leave. I let him throw his tantrum and I do whatever else I need to do. If we’re on a tight schedule I don’t speak to him as I move him through the motions to get out of the house. Sometimes this means we go without shoes or we show up in our pajamas, but we still go.
That’s the key to remember about tantrums. Even if they are screaming and flailing while you get whatever it is you are asking for… you still win. Don’t lose sight of that. Are you getting what it is you need out of them? Then you are still ‘winning’. Ugly wins still count as wins.
Not all tantrums are the same
As I alluded to before, sometimes I can leave and sometimes I can’t. That’s because not all tantrums are the same. Even coming from the same kid. I can easily tell the difference between an attention-seeking tantrum and a total melt-down. They require completely different responses from me. Think back to consistency, how would ignoring a tantrum that might end in self-harm help my kid? It doesn’t. But ignoring tantrums in which he doesn’t want to leave the house and calls me nasty names? Totally effective.
Different kids will respond to different things
Time outs do NOT work for my kids. They don’t. Never have, never will. Reasoning or redirection can work for them if the tantrum isn’t attention-seeking. Ignoring it completely seems to be the most effective AT THE MOMENT for my younger son. It’s always evolving. Please don’t get caught up in what works for the neighbor kid and beat yourself up when it doesn’t work for yours. Trust your gut.
You know your child best
Speaking of trusting your gut, you know your kid better than anyone. I went down the rabbit hole and read all the blogs (ironic, right?), books, Facebook threads, etc. and I only drove myself nuts trying to fit my atypical child into a typical child box. Even as I was reading some of these things I was thinking ‘There’s no way’ and I was right. When kid 2 came along, he was a bit easier and responded a bit more to present-day parenting voodoo. But by that point, I knew better than to try and force things that didn’t feel right.
I am embarrassed by how much money I spent on programs, parenting ‘experts’, and access to special members-only areas on blogs. They all told me to do EXACTLY what they said and I would see results… but I never did. Turns out I should have tuned out all that noise and listened to my own self. Because it’s true, we know our own children best. So do what YOU think is right when they start throwing those tantrums.
If you feel like it’s not normal, trust your gut
Tantrums are a normal part of childhood until they aren’t. At some point I’m sure every parent probably thinks ‘Is this normal?’ and typically the answer is yes, it’s totally normal. But if that question keeps nagging you, even if everyone around you rolls their eyes… pursue it. Ask the questions, see the doctors, observe your child, and don’t give up until you feel at ease.
I knew from very early on that my older son’s tantrums were not normal. For years we listened to people tell us we were being ridiculous. People who saw him rarely told me I was making things up. Thank god I trusted my gut, though. Because now he has the support system and medication he needs. My point is, you need to trust yourself. Take the advice that works and throw the rest away.
So how do I handle a tantrum again?
I will leave you with this:
If someone promises you a one size fits all approach to stop tantrums it’s bullshit. Sorry, but it is. All kids are different, their tantrums are different, and the same kid can throw two different tantrums a day that require completely different responses. Also, YOUR response will never be perfect. You cannot be perfect, so stop trying to be. Teach your child that the world is not robotic in its response to them.
Finally, trust your gut. If you think your child’s tantrums aren’t normal, then seek out the necessary resources you think they need. How to deal with temper tantrums is something very specific to you, your child, and your lives. You are the parent, you know best. Not the internet, not the self-proclaimed parenting expert, not your relatives, not your neighbor. YOU.