Children can struggle with big emotions and often when going into a meltdown can find it hard to self-regulate. Developmentally, young children don’t have the capacity to calm down, so it’s important that we acknowledge this and take steps to support and nurture them back into a safe and calm state.
During a tantrum, it’s almost impossible for a child to see reason because the part of their brain that is active is closed off to these things and isn’t capable of applying a logical perspective. Once we realise that their reaction is often instinctive and out of their conscious control, we can make more effective decisions when responding to the situation.
Tantrums can be very frustrating, however in these moments, children need us to respond with connection and calmness rather than chaos. The best thing that we can do for our children is to firstly regulate ourselves and our own emotions. If we are adding frustration and anger to the mix, it won’t help anyone.
Connection and space
The greatest gift we can give anyone is connection. When people feel connected and heard they are far more likely to calm down and listen. During a meltdown, a child won’t hear your words. However, they will feel your energy. By just extending love and care in this moment, you will give them the time and space to calm down. Think about when you yourself have lost it. In that moment you are raging and can’t think clearly. It’s only once you’ve calmed down that you can reason and look at a different perspective. The same applies to children. Calm always comes before clarity.
Quite often tantrums seem irrational. However, if you look at the situation through the eyes of a child (with their limited life experience), you will most probably gain a better understanding of why they are feeling and reacting this way. I remember once giving my little boy a red felt tip pen instead of the blue one, he wanted. It all descended into chaos and he ended up on the floor screaming and crying. From my adult perspective this seemed like a massive over reaction. However, the minute I looked at this through the lens of a 2-year-old, it made so much more sense. He was frustrated that I got it wrong and on top of that, he didn’t have the ability to talk to me in a way that could articulate this frustration. The only way he could express himself was through a meltdown and because of his age, he wasn’t able to rationalise and control himself. He wasn’t being ‘naughty’ or defiant, he was struggling to manage his feelings and needed my help. I hugged him through his meltdown and then once he was calm, I told him that I understood he was frustrated with mummy getting it wrong and that I was going to fix it. I then gave him the blue pen, wiped away his tears and peace was quickly restored.
When I am expecting something from my children, I always ask myself how I would personally react if I was being treated in the same way. This helps me to make sure that my expectations are fair and respectful. Quite often without meaning to, we ask things of children that we wouldn’t ourselves be okay with.
If we were engrossed in a project and someone just came up to us, turned off our computer and told us it was lunch time, we would be annoyed. We’d expect to have some time to round things up and to finish off what we were doing, and for people to allow us to manage our own time. Children are no different. By asking them if they can be done in 5 minutes, you allow them to feel in control. Like my own children, they might negotiate and ask for 10, which is perfectly okay.
By managing our own time and expectations we can allow for this and give children the feeling of autonomy, which helps them to feel more empowered. If they then go into a meltdown anyway when the time comes to pack up, you can gently remind them that they agreed to this.
This then teaches children about responsibility and boundaries too.
Children are always going to have meltdowns and will often struggle to regulate their own feelings. However, with our help and compassion they can return to a state of calm and learn the lessons necessary to move forward in a better way. People are more likely to step into their greatness when they feel understood, loved and respected. If we can view a meltdown as a signpost that a child is struggling and needs our help, rather than viewing it as ‘bad behaviour’, we will not only manage the situation in a more effective way but will also teach children the art of kindness, empathy and care.
About the author:
Stacey Kelly is a former French and Spanish teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box. After becoming a mum, Stacey left her teaching career and started writing and illustrating storybooks to help support her children through different transitional stages like leaving nursery and starting school. Seeing the positive impact of her books on her children’s emotional wellbeing led to Early Years Story Box being born. Stacey has now created 35 storybooks, all inspired by her own children, to help teach different life lessons and to prepare children for their next steps. She has an exclusive collection for childcare settings that are gifted on special occasions like first/last days, birthdays, Christmas and/or Easter and has recently launched a new collection for parents too. Her mission is to support as many children as she can through storytime and to give childcare settings an affordable and special gifting solution that truly makes a difference.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Telephone: 07765785595