Just like us adults, sometimes kids can have big reactions and lose their shit! Think of a time when you were having a hard day - one of those days where it feels like everything is going wrong and you just can't seem to catch a break. One seemingly small thing tips you over the edge and you lose it. Maybe you cried, or yelled or swore - perhaps all three!
Think about how you felt in that moment - perhaps you felt frustrated or overwhelmed? Maybe you felt annoyed, angry or just fed up?
Now think about what it was you needed in that moment to feel okay - maybe you were wanting validation, connection or comfort? Maybe you just needed empathy and understanding?
Toddler brains - specifically the parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and communicating - are still developing. This is why you often see them in full-blown tantrum mode when they are experiencing big emotions. They will yell, cry, hit, kick and scream when they are having trouble processing and communicating what they are feeling.
As parents, this can be really stressful, frustrating and upsetting - temper tantrums are really good at testing our limits, patience, strength and boundaries.
It's important to remember that our energy is contagious, and kids are really good at picking up on the energy we are giving off, so try to remain calm - even if that means getting on the floor with them and taking a few deep, grounding breaths before engaging.
During a tantrum, remember it is not the time to negotiate, teach or punish. In moments of heightened emotion, the part of the brain that is responsible for learning, processing emotions and communicating feelings and needs shuts down and becomes harder to reach. This is the same for both children and adults. This means they will not be able to fully process what's being said, increasing the frustration they are already experiencing.
Instead, sit with them and allow them to feel what it is they're feeling. Physically reach out and offer connection in the form of hand-holding or a hug, or just sit with them and be present - this requires patience and might take a few tries, and that's okay. Create space for them and allow them to pick up on your calm energy.
Once the tantrum is over and you can sense their emotions regulating, you can talk with them about what happened. This might look something like this:
"You were feeling upset that your brother was playing with your Lego. It's okay to feel upset about that." Naming the emotion and validating them helps them to identify what they were feeling and teaches them that it is okay to feel that way.
"It's not okay to hit or kick your brother when you feel upset." This addresses their behaviour and sets a boundary.
"Next time you feel upset, what do you think might help?" Talk through some strategies and offer some suggestions on what can be done differently next time.
"How are you feeling now?" This will encourage your toddler to talk about their feelings now they are in a calmer place. Listen to the words they use and pay attention to their body language. They may still need some help identifying and validating their feelings.
"Now you're feeling better, would you like to play some Lego together?" This offers them reassurance, connection and some one-on-one time.
Often what children need to feel okay in these moments is to feel safe, loved and connected. We all know how draining tantrums can be, so after the chaos is over, make sure to also take a moment to check in with yourself and what you may be needing - taking care of others means taking care of yourself, too!