Thursday, 14 November 2013

Guest Post: Staying Calm during Toddler Tantrums

Prior to my 'Supermum' days, I always knew about the 'Terrible Twos'. I figured tthat when the day would come that I would finally produce & rear my offspring [[in a similar fashion as to rearing chickens]that I would be well prepared. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail or some old chesnut that my old hockey teacher used to tell me.

No child was harmed in the making of this tantrum. Believe it or not, this was because my darling didn't want Jake pyjamas!

That advice wasn't worth a bag of sticks then and quite frankly, it isn't now. Yes I'm prepared for the 'Terrible Twos'. I've read the books, I've even sought advice from Twitter, heck, I've even felt the need to purchase a hard hat. When F turns two, I will be prepared.

But as for now, well no one told me about the terrible fourteen months, or the fifteen as I sure as hell wasn't expecting the sixteens. As it happens, the 'Terrible Twos' can creep up and kick you up the backside whenever; taking you by suprise and throwing all this parental planning out of the window!

I've been taken by suprise. I'm on my backside so to speak. F is fourteen months and I've already had to peel him off aisle six at Sainsburys (or all other good supermarkets, most of which he's already banned!) due to an almighty fiasco over a rubber 'quack quack' as he calls them. Fourteen months! I wasn't ready for this. I've still got another ten months of 'Terrible Two' training!

As luck would have it however, an angel came to me through the midsts of Twitter. Cat Williams, author of 'Stay Calm & Contented'. Here is her guest post on 'Staying Calm during Toddler Tantrums.'

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be a guest on your blog.

I am Cat Williams. I am a mum of two, Army wife, relationship counsellor, writer, speaker and the author of 'Stay Calm and Content No Matter What Life Throws At You' (multiple 5* reviews on Amazon) which will also be reviewed very soon on this blog, watch this space! 50% of the profits of the book are raising funds for UK counselling charities, so please check it out, buy a copy, and spread the word about it – thanks!

Today I am writing about staying calm during toddler tantrums...

Most young children will have tantrums at some point or another. Some parents seem to cope better with them than others. How can we all learn the secret to staying calm?

Tantrums are ‘threatening'?

When dealing with a tantrum at home we might not find it too difficult to remain calm, but when a tantrum happens in a supermarket or at a toddler group, for example, we usually feel far more exposed and embarrassed.

Our self-esteem is threatened when we are fearful of being judge or criticised by those around us. We often also internally judge and criticise ourselves at the same time because we might be saying to ourselves “I can’t believe my child is behaving like this….why can’t I make him or her behave...maybe it’s my fault…”.

What happens?

Our brain immediately responds to the 'threat' we feel to our self-esteem by triggering our physiological fight or flight reaction. Our heart beats faster, our mouth goes dry, or we feel shaky, or hot and we will describe these physical feelings as negative emotions; such as embarrassment, anger, anxiety or frustration.

Why do we react as we do?

If we are unaware of what causes our emotions, then we will also be unaware that our subsequent actions are attempts to protect or repair our self-esteem.

We do what makes ourselves feel ‘better’ in some way at the time, maybe shout at our child in order to try to regain control, or punish them, and then later think “I wish I hadn’t done that, I wish I could have stayed calm”.

How can we stay calm?

Remaining calm when our child has a tantrum can be difficult, but the best way we can help ourselves is to focus on maintaining our confidence as a parent at that most potentially stressful of moments.

Most of us feel like a terrible parent at one time or another and it is easy to perceive other parents as doing a better job than we are. Only by accepting ourselves as good enough, and maintaining our own self-esteem, will we be able to remain calm in a greater number of situations.

What is a tantrum about?

Young children are not experienced in managing their feelings and emotions. Their budding independence brings with it intense frustration and confusion. They are unable to articulate what they feel and so their anger or sadness becomes all-consuming and can sometimes break out as a tantrum.

Tantrums tend to occur when a child is hungry, tired or already upset. They often coincide with moments when we as parents are distracted, stressed or trying to accomplish something that interferes with being ‘child-centred’, such as supermarket shopping.

If we can see the tantrum through the eyes of our child we have a much greater chance of helping them, and ourselves. We can often see a tantrum brewing and sometimes we can quickly provide the rest, change of scene, snack, focused attention, or distraction our child needs, so that a full-blown tantrum can be avoided.

What to do ‘at the time’:

If a tantrum does occur we must first of all say only positive things to ourselves under our breath, something like “it’s ok, this happens to everyone, it doesn’t mean I have a terrible child, or that I am a terrible parent, this is just one of those things, I’m okay, I can stay calm, it will pass…”

Don’t bribe your child to stop by saying they can get what they want, or giving them a different ‘reward’, the aim is not to encourage more tantrums by rewarding them, but to teach your child how to calm themselves down and understand their emotions, so that they can learn to handle them better as they grow.

Don't punish - punishing your child, criticising them for their behaviour, or isolating them in ‘time out’ are often not helpful as they often increase and prolong a tantrum.

If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed then remove yourself, or both of you, for as long as it takes to regain your own calm. Count to ten, speak positive words to yourself, and take some deep breaths, then focus on your child again..

“Children need love most when they deserve it least”

Speak quietly and soothingly. Empathise with your child and accept their extreme emotions, say “I know you feel angry, it’s okay, I’m here to help you calm down”. It may take a while for your child to allow you a cuddle, but be patient and available. Don't expect a child to "use words" when in the middle of a tantrum.

Once your child has calmed a little show understanding of his or her feelings by identifying and explaining what just happened. Use simple language such as "I could see you really didn’t want to share your ball with your brother” or “I know you really wanted that toy”. Accepting their emotion, validating their feelings, and explaining why they need to share, or why they will not get the toy they want, can go a long way toward instilling a sense of well-being, trust and emotional stability.

A tantrum can be a learning opportunity for both of you if it is handled sensitively, but if handled insensitively your child’s trust in you can be damaged and therefore their burgeoning self-worth and self-confidence can be affected. Our children will feel a greater sense of trust and love for us if we can provide support, kindness and guidance during their most trying moments.

What if we ‘lose it’

We will not always be calm. As parents there will be times when we are particularly tired or stressed, and when we act towards our children in a way which we later regret. This is understandable and to be expected, we are only human, nobody is perfect.

The most important thing we can do after we have ‘lost it’ is to talk this through later on with our child. If we can explain our own emotions, and apologise for times when we are angry or thoughtless, then we will be teaching our child how to evaluate and understand their own behaviour, and how to make amends.

Being able to apologise shows healthy self-esteem because we are showing that we don’t always need to be ‘right’ and to try to appear ‘perfect’ in order to feel okay about ourselves. If we can explain our emotions and behaviour and admit our mistakes then our children will learn to handle their own emotions and mistakes in a calmer and more accepting way.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Please feel free to comment and also to join me on my blog for more “Ask Cat....” dilemmas and advice. I blog about and answer real-life relationship dilemmas in an anonymous way.

Please also check out the link to my book on Amazon, remember 50% of profits go to charity.

With thanks and best wishes, Cat.

I have not received any financial reward for this post. I have simply allowed Cat the opportunity of a guest post as I have found her advice invaluable. I have received her book which I am currently reading so keep an eye out for a review.

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