Jo Rowe had to learn how to support her daughter through temper tantrums and shares some of her top tips
I looked at my perfect, blonde ringlet-ed 5-year-old as she angrily thrashed her feet on the kitchen floor and screamed furiously. She was totally out of control of herself and I had no idea what to do about it. My overwhelming feeling was guilt. I had created this child, and this moment, with my terrible parenting she had been screaming, at fever pitch, for about 10 minutes and I was at my wits end. It had been threatening all day; a day of battling wills, and pushing boundaries. The moment that tipped her over was the fact that we had decided that pudding was only for girls who had finished their dinner. She hadn’t so she didn’t. BOOM! We had ANGER!
Over the next few years, we tried everything when she was in a tantrum. We tried firm boundaries, time out, the naughty step, coaxing, bribing, comfort, cuddles, tag teaming, good cop/bad cop…. The whole caboodle. We felt guilt and shame and desperation in equal measure. But, to the outward world, my daughter was perfect. She was personable and kind and generous and sweet. No one believed us, that at home, she regularly lost it completely!
Ten years on and my daughter still struggles with anger sometimes. She knows that it is her default BIG emotion that hides the vulnerable emotions like hurt or frustration. However, she is now much more equipped to deal with her anger. It still wins sometimes but she has worked so hard.
We all have default BIG emotions that we use to hide behind. For some of us it’s anxiety, for others control, for some we just shut down, or numb out. Each of us has to work though that emotion in order to work out what’s going on behind. It requires self control and self awareness, and often help from the Holy Spirit.For my daughter, it is anger.
A friend recently asked for advice, as they too were having extreme anger flare-ups with their 4-year-old. It got me thinking about the advice I wanted to give. So how can we help our kids process their anger so they can get to their softer emotions? How can we parent and eqip our kids so that they process their anger quickly so that it doesn’t cause them to damage relationships around them?
Here are a few things we have learned on our journey:
1) Remember, the only person you can control is yourself (on a very good day!!).
When dealing with an angry little one (or big one!), it so often gets into a power struggle. Power struggles never end well, it leaves one person winning and one losing and that is never great for connection or understanding. The aim is for you to control you; and to teach and train our kids to control themselves.
2) Model what it looks like to control yourself and your emotions.
I don’t know about you but I have a lot of emotions when I am around my kid in a tantrum! It takes some practice but it is really great training to model what calming down looks like. When I feel like I want to shout at my kid, I might say, “I am feeling really frustrated right now, I am going to take a moment to calm down, I’ll be back in a minute” or “I need to take some deep breaths because I can feel myself getting worked up.” This gives language to our kids whilst modeling ways to calm down.
3) Tell your kids what you are going to do!
Rather than telling you kids what you want THEM to do, talk about your next steps, show them your boundaries. For example; “I am happy to talk about this as soon as your voice is as calm as mine…” or “I’m happy to serve tea to kids who have cleared up their mess.” Obviously, the work for you to be calm has to come first, but this is brilliant for not getting into trying to reason with a kid who is hyped up on adrenaline! It is impossible to reason with a child who is in full anger mode… the part of the brain that deals with logic has switched off due to the adrenaline spike! It cuts the need for lots of talk and makes the boundary simple.
Being out of control of yourself is scary. As a little one (or even a big one!) being so angry you are in full rage is terrifying. When we keep our empathy and kindness switched on, even when we are triggered, we can show our kids that there is a safe way out and that we love them. This might be communicated by saying, “I can see you are really angry right now, can you calm yourself down, or do you need my help?” Help might look like being held, or distracted, or stroked. However this only works if they ask for the help. You might have to say things like, “I can only hold you if you try and control the noise you’re making as my ears hurt.” etc. For my 15-year- old this manifests as me asking her what she needs, I might say, “Sweetie, what is it you need right now? Space? Hug? Journaling time?” Empathy ensures that we keep our love switched on and our kids know that we love them no matter how they act.
The more we can stay out of the power struggle and are consistent with our modeling, boundaries and enforceable statements the more we are training our kids to take responsibility for their own emotions and process them well. This can be hard when we get to teenagers who are expert arguers but it is worth it.
We aren’t the expert parents, and we have failed at keeping our cool and have entered into angry reasoning on too many occasions. I have often used way too many words in the process of dealing with an angry child and keeping myself under control is usually the hardest job. But we have seen so much progress and freedom. I have even used these tips in a school classroom setting and they have worked well too. And remember… anger is often the default BIG emotion that a softer emotion hides behind. Helping our kids to get to that soft emotion takes time and self-control, but is always rewarding and healing as a parent or teacher.