The post yesterday spoke about why raising hands or threatening a child does not work. But then, how does one deal with difficult behaviour, especially tantrums? Let us talk about handling difficult situations in a gentle manner. Here are a few strategies that work wonders for me.
Step 1: Understand the limit
I ask myself why I say no. Sometimes, the limit comes from a place of safety, but sometimes, it could be my anxiety or a bad day making me grouchy. I use the simple 3Rs rule. The behavior must be respectful towards self, towards others and towards the environment. If not, it is a strict no. If yes, I ask myself again why I am saying a no.
For example, saying no to playing with the knife vs saying no to the child wanting to help roll chapatis simply because I’m tired. (Again, this does not mean I have to say yes if I am tired. We reason out and arrive at a compromise)
Step 2: Understanding the child
What is upsetting the child? In infants and toddlers, any small change may cause fussiness. Ask if the child is well-fed, well-rested, needs to be picked, over-stimulated, sleepy, etc? It could be any of these things.
If the toddler is behaving differently, identifying if the child is emotionally with me (tantrums or a lie or a behavior that they are aware of at the moment) or not ( meltdowns) is key.
Step 3: Handling myself
If the child is displaying any behavior that is upsetting me, I tell myself that it is not about me or her. It is not about her behavior (yes, even when in public). It is about a difficult situation or problem my child needs help with. Next, I tell myself to calm down. Whatever works- a glass of water, deep breathing, and if one is feeling particularly volatile, removal from situation. Do not use words or raise hands in anger, that one may regret later.
And reinforce to self, that this is a teachable moment. Acting in haste, yelling, scolding, is not going to work. It will only make matters worse.
Step 4: Helping child through tantrums
Let us assume, that the child is having difficulty in regulating behavior. A personal example – I just told her we cannot go to the park today evening because it rained. Now on most days, the toddler would accept the logic. But on a difficult day, she says,” No! I want to go NOW! Bad amma!” She might stop at that or may even go on to throw something.
Hmm. That is rough. I feel horrible. I might even want to say, “Hey, how can you be so ungrateful?” But remember step 2 and 3.
Acknowledge how the child is feeling. Her feelings are valid and she is allowed to feel them. “Hey, I know it sucks. I understand you’re upset because you were really looking forward to go to the park.” Using rich vocabulary for emotions and the reason helps the child accept her own feelings, as well as arrive at cause and effect.
-Remind of the limit with reason
“But we cannot go out today because the sand is still wet. The air is still cold. And you are recovering from the flu. Your health is important to me. You have to respect your body.”
– Fantasy (optional)
On some days, we use this or directly go on to the next step. This step usually works for older children and sometimes for younger children who love imagining. “How cool it would be if we could play in the rain and never catch a cold no? Or if we had umbrellas attached to our heads?”
Arrive at a suitable compromise together. Invite the child to brainstorm with you so that she not just knows youre on her side, but also her higher functioning level brain is activated. A simple “What do you think we do instead?” can do wonders! Or “How about we watch the rain together or read a rainy day book? Do you have some other idea on how we can make indoors fun?”
On some days, giving reasonable choices works. For example, a closed choice like “We cannot go out today. Would you like to paint or do some water play ?” would work better than, “We cannot go out today. What would you like to do instead?”
Ensure that the whole conversation is about the parent and the child connecting.
Step 5: Meltdown
If a child is having a meltdown, one would need to calm the child first before moving on to step 4. A meltdown is neurological. The child cannot control herself and she operates from a place of emotion. Here, connecting first is the only way. A warm hug, a story or song, an “I am here for you” , or an I love you or a kiss, whatever works. For us, at the moment, hugs work like wonders. Once the child calms down, you can work on step 4.
Step 6: Red alerts
Some behavior is dangerous. For example, playing near the stove or dancing in the middle of the road or raising hands to hit another child. In these cases, I believe it is okay to step in and remove the child from the situation. And then, have the rational conversation and explanation with them.
Very, very, very rarely, during tantrums, we used to distract the child or bribe her. Here is why, I am not aboard this distraction strategy.
Hope this helps. The core of the whole step-wise strategy is connection. The child learns that parents are working with her. She learns to look at problems differently. Every time she confronts huge emotions or a difficult situation, she trains her brain to use the higher functioning areas and look for a solution. Or connect with a supportive figure and collaboratively, find a way, instead of isolating herself.
The beautiful thing about being gentle from early years? I can sit across V and have a rational discussion about anything. Yes, we still have tantrums and meltdowns, but yes, we always find a way to work through them and come out feeling better.
When we start looking at tantrums as teachable moments and learning opportunities, for both, the child as well as ourselves, we may be able to help the child better. And just maybe, we may emerge calmer and more mindful individuals.