Join us for a journey into the world of emotional regulation in parenting as we tackle the common challenge of tantrums and meltdowns in our kids. Listen in as we share practical strategies for managing your child’s emotional dysregulation, emphasizing the need to prioritize your own wellness before effectively parenting your children.
Through understanding and managing your own emotions, you can create a positive ripple effect on your child’s emotional landscape. We delve into the art of responding effectively to your emotions, a strategy that can make all the difference. Additionally, we tackle the concept of resilience training – a powerful tool that encourages value-based decisions, moving away from responses solely based on emotions.
Lastly, we share practical tips on staying calm and connected during stressful situations. We demonstrate how your calm demeanor can help your child regulate their emotions, offering strategies for recognizing triggers and teaching essential emotional management skills. This is your opportunity to become the emotionally intelligent parent your child truly needs. So, join us on this journey and find the joy in handling tantrums and meltdowns!
What you will learn on this episode:
– How your own wellness is a prerequisite to effective parenting
– How your emotional state impacts your parenting methods and child’s emotional landscape
– Practical tips on staying calm and connected during stressful situations
– Strategies to help your child regulate their emotions by managing your own
– Techniques to recognize triggers and teach essential emotional management skills to children
– The value of being on the same side of the problem with your child during a meltdown
– The importance of holding limits while also co-regulating with your child
– The need for setting reasonable expectations and preparing for meltdowns as part of the learning process.
I absolutely love to hear your thoughts and get your questions.
You can email me at: Leighagermann@gmail.com
I can’t wait to hear from you!
This podcast is not intended to provide mental health treatment. Leigh Germann is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and not a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist. She does not provide diagnosis nor offer therapy through the LeighGermann.com website or in the information offered on the website. It is important that you do not disregard professional medical or mental health advice or delay seeking professional medical or mental health treatment because of any information on the LeighGermann.com website including but not limited to blogs, newsletter, videos, podcasts, e-books, programs, webinars, courses and other services. Leigh Germann and offerings on LeighGermann.com are not providing legal or financial advice, business advice, psychotherapy, supervision, religious advice, or medical advice. The information contained on this Website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
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Hi and welcome to Leadership Parenting. and we are now officially six months in to our podcast episodes. Over that time, we’ve had thousands of downloads and just so much great feedback. I am so grateful to you all. This process has been so fun for me to get a chance to reach so many of you, so many more than I do in my one-to-one work, which has been the goal right To be able to help everyone have access to these skills and knowledge, to help them feel better and parent better. So, as we embark on our six-month mark, I want to ask you if you would take a minute and go into Apple Podcast and rank and review this podcast. When you do that for us, it allows us to show up in search engines so that women who are looking to get these skills and this support can find us so much easier, and I’ve heard from so many of you personally who’ve reached out to me on email or on Instagram. Thank you so much for doing that and I invite you, if you’re so inclined, to also go in and formally post a review. I know everybody’s not comfortable with that, but if you are, that would be such a great help.
When I started out planning the content for this podcast, I purposely focused on the skills that we need as parents to function in our roles, and that means that the work we’re doing is going to be very focused on our own self-awareness and getting connected to our own values and understanding how our own minds and bodies work so we can regulate our emotions. And I just recently had someone ask me there are so many episodes on individual wellness and skills for parents. Where are the parenting tips and tricks? And I know we are focused heavily on getting our own skills on board, so I just want to revisit our vision here for just a minute to see if I can answer that question.
In my years of experience, I found that handing out scripts and techniques for parenting kind of falls flat in being helpful, because unless a mom is solid on her feet, she is not going to be able to do the things or keep doing the things she hears about and learns. And when I mean solid on your feet, what I mean really able to do these things for herself, taking care of her own education, awareness and skill set to manage her own emotions and stay connected to her own vision. This is the best parenting strategy that we have. So this is why we mostly talk about your wellness and we’ll continue to prioritize that as far as our focus, because rarely, if ever, is mom or dad’s wellness seen as priority number one, and it has to be. If we’re going to show up calm, clear and able to parent our kids the way they need to be parented, it has to be number one. So leadership parenting means you do the wellness first, so you get it, and then you show your family by your example and then also by explicitly teaching them how to do it for themselves. So we will be very heavy on our focus of preparing you and caring for you. We will always start with you.
Okay, I hope that answers that question a little bit more clearly. And just for fun, today let’s talk about how to handle some of these more specific little fires we have in our parenting day, because we actually have some of our skills on board now and after 30 episodes you’ve your training is kind of deeper instilled within you and now you’ve got a skill set that you can work with as we’re addressing these challenges. So today I’d like to talk about applying these things to one of our common struggles and that’s when our kids, whatever age they are, when they’re having emotional dysregulation, we call that tantrums, and our little ones and maybe you call it tantrums for your big ones too, and I really like looking at it as emotional dysregulation. And let me give you the technical definition of this. Emotional and behavioral dysregulation can be observed and described as frequent irritability, temper tantrums, tearfulness, unprompted outbursts and difficulty self soothing. So with this definition we can cast a pretty big net to cover all ages and stages of our children.
And I’ll also add, including the adults in our family like you and me, right, and our spouses, of course, because all of us as humans have trouble regulating our emotions at times and it can be big time dysregulation, like really feeling out of emotional control and having the classic big outbursts that we call tantrums, and also a slight dysregulation and that can show up like just getting anxious or being overly sensitive or picky or demanding, or having a child hide behind your leg. Have you ever had that happen, where a child is so emotionally kind of not feeling stabilized that they’ll hide behind our leg when someone is talking to them, being silent and withdrawn or shutting down? So emotional regulation is the opposite of this, the goal we’re going for with ourselves and our kids Because, once again, as we parent, we’re constantly at risk of becoming dysregulated ourselves and this is the biggest parenting challenge, above all the rest by far, and it’s our own challenge. Think about how being flooded or overwhelmed by your own feelings as an adult comes into play sometimes when you’re parenting and all the different ways you might act when you get overwhelmed and how much that complicates our situations, kind of magnifies or even doubles the issue that’s going on with our child. They’re dysregulated and then we are dysregulated, so the parent is literally rendered handicapped by the same process their child is experiencing and what we mean when we say regulate is that we know how to effectively manage and respond to those emotions that we’re having. And this is really critical, guys, for our kids and for us to remember.
Being emotionally regulated doesn’t mean that we never have anger or frustration. It means we know what to do when we have those feelings. We’re actually not supposed to be regulated all the time. It’s just not a realistic expectation. This is the core of resilience training not to be robots with perfect emotions, but to know how to respond when we get upset, and to even lengthen the time between what we’re feeling all that upset and how we act, so that we have more time to decide what we want to do and that that decision can be based upon the things that are important to us, like our values, the things that matter to us, rather than just react to our emotions. And let me describe that a little bit for you If I’m emotionally regulated, I’m going to have access to all of my brain, and I want you to think about this for you first, but also think about this for a goal that we’re having for our children. Right, if we’re emotionally regulated, then we have access to our whole brain, the upper and the lower part of our brain and I’ll be able to think more clearly and make decisions from this full capacity, being able to use all of my faculties, seeing the bigger picture, connecting to the values, deciding what’s good for me, not good for me, being able to have compassion for myself, for others, and really being able to think of the person I’m dealing with with empathy. Like that’s a tall order, all of that and that’s what. Hopefully, we have a better chance of doing all of that when we’re emotionally regulated, which means our emotions are in that window of tolerance. We are able to work with them.
What happens when I’m dysregulated is that my normal thinking brain gets shut off. It’s kind of walled off and I lose connection with my problem solving, with that empathy, with my values and perspective, and I’m stuck inside the wave of a really big feeling and those feelings become the decision maker. So when I’m flooded with anger, I react. When I’m flooded with sadness, fear, I’m reacting in the moment to those very big feelings and if you recall our last episode on soothe, when we have really big feelings, particularly the ones that are uncomfortable, then we try to do things to get rid of them and yelling and screaming might be our first response Hitting, you know, I was going to say hitting for kids, but like because they might hit. But actually this happens to adults too.
I used to work with men who had anger control issues and were mandated to therapy because of that. What I focused on in those therapy sessions was learning how to regulate their emotions, because many of them would never hit their loved one when they were not emotionally flooded, but when dysregulated, their upper brains were walled off and they couldn’t get to their value-based decision making. And so, technically, that describes what’s happening to our children when they are dysregulated. They’re having tantrums, they’re behaving in ways that feel so anti what we want them to do, and I’m going to tell you, probably, that they want to do. And technically, we, as the parents, are supposed to be good at regulation while our children are learning. They’re just not supposed to be good at it. So back to my opening point in response to all the time we’re spending on our own skills, it’s because we need to get strong at it so we can handle our children’s dysregulation by using our own regulation and kind of showing them what it looks like.
Now, if you’re shaking your head a little right now thinking, gosh, I am not good at that. You’re not alone, and this is why we are on this mission to get good at it, because everything we plan to do in our parenting, as far as techniques and strategies, kind of get undone when we lose our cool and this is why we’re always front loading your skills We’ll always be spending time talking about what you need to be doing for your own resilience, because you’re going to need that so you can help your kids do it. Okay, so it’s important to understand that humans get dysregulated. We just talked about it happening to all of us. It’s just a fact. Your toddler, elementary age kiddo, even your teenager, are going to have big emotions that they don’t yet know how to handle. This is baseline normal.
Okay, let’s get specific in what steps to take when dealing with your child’s tantrums or emotional dysregulation. The first step is to understand there is always a you piece and a them piece, and many times we tend to think that the them piece is about us. So I always want you to be thinking about the two separate people in this situation and get really clear where you begin and end and where your child begins and ends, and this hasn’t always felt super clear to us, right? Because they begin their lives within us, where we are carrying them and then meeting every need, with little expectation from them or understanding about them even, and then steadily they grow and it can be hard to separate ourselves from them. And it’s so important because every time our children’s behavior feels like it’s about us, we are actually off track. It messes with our mind and then our emotions and pretty soon we will be feeling what our kids are feeling and most likely, acting like our kids are acting.
Have you ever noticed that when your child is getting angry or yelling, it is so tempting to do exactly the same thing? In fact, it’s almost comical when you think about it that parent yelling at their child. I told you not to yell. It’s comical unless it’s happening to you and we just do this. As humans, we tend to mirror what we see, and this is awesome when we’re looking at kindness and patience and compassion. But when we’re staring at anger and pouting and big emotions, it tends to trigger our own danger center and we start to feel the same things.
We’ve talked about this a little in episodes 13 and 14 on co-regulation, where my nervous system can actually be calmed down by your nervous system and my nervous system can also get upset by your nervous system and think about how much power that is for our kids to have. It’s too much power. They can’t be given that much power. We need to be in charge of our own nervous systems and that’s what we’re going for in our response to our children. We are trying to hold steady in our own nervous system and stay calm. So we’re that steady boat for our kids, thrashing around in the water instead of jumping right in there with them and getting angry, impatient and dysregulated, which leads us to step number two.
We have to get centered. It’s really hard to think our way out of being dysregulated. We have to go straight for our nervous system and calm it down first, because when our nervous system is on fire, it’s hard to think, and this is why we talked so much about soothe in the last episode and breathing and self-care. You want to learn what you need to do to calm and soothe yourself so that when your child is flipping out and you’re starting to mirror it, you can start the soothe process early. I like to call this getting centered and ultimately you’re working on being centered throughout your day, before any meltdowns, but even in the moment you can take a fraction of a second and reach into yourself to connect and get centered.
When facing a meltdown, the first thing I want you to do is take a deep breath Maybe it’s just one, more likely it’s a couple and just recognize wow, this is upsetting me, my stress response is on and I’m going to take a breath. Okay, I’m very visual and what has really helped me is to have an image of this kind of clear bubble, like a plexiglass bubble, that kind of envelops me and allows me some space to be separate from all the stuff going on outside and lets me feel centered. Sometimes when I breathe to soothe myself, I can imagine the bubble just slipping into place and within it I make my own calm, my own safe. So this is how I envision my own nervous system regulating, like if you’re an astronaut and you stepped out of your rocket ship onto a planet with no oxygen. It was just toxic. As you left the ship, your bubble in your helmet would completely contain you, giving you your own oxygen, your own temperature regulation, so you could step out into that harsh planet environment.
That has to happen first before you go out there to deal with your child’s meltdown. Just a few breaths and the bubble slips around you, giving you a cocoon of safety. This is you centered, so you can now be child focused. This means first you get connected to you your values, your feelings, your internal safety and then you turn your focus onto your child’s needs. Because when you’re child, no matter what their age a baby who’s crying in the middle of the night with colic, or a teenager who is stomping up the stairs in anger it’s really not about you. Of course, it feels like it’s about you because you’re part of the conversation. You’re the one in the room, you’re the one they’re looking at when they’re melting down. But here’s the assumption I want you to make, and it is number three your child is having a hard time, and if they could do better right now, they would. What does this do for us? Well, it puts us on the same side of the problem with our child, instead of being at odds, because what happens almost instantaneously is that we feel our own big feelings around their behavior. We take it personally and then get hurt, defensive and angry.
I like to draw a line on a paper and have that represent the problem. It could be any problem. It could be your baby crying, a toddler melting down a teenager’s refusal to a rule or a quest you’ve made. So there’s the line on the paper. That’s the problem. And then I want you to put a mark on the paper on one side of the line and that represents your child Already.
We’re separating out your child from the problem. This is part of that sense of your child has an essential self. They are good, they are valuable, they are whole, they are worthwhile. They are having a hard time. They’re making. That first separation Line is the problem. Child’s on the side of the line. Now we’re going to plot you. Where are you going to go if you were to represent you on that sheet of paper?
This is a critical question. Most of the time we get dropped on the other side of the line, so it ends up looking like a tennis net and we’re playing against our child. It’s an adversarial setup. If you were playing doubles, you’d be on the same team, right? Where would you stand? On which side of the net would you be? If you were playing doubles on the same team, with your child facing the net? You’d be on the same side.
This is an entirely imaginary envisioning activity that will absolutely change your relationship with the people you love. We can use it with our kids, with our spouses, in our work situations and literally every place that we’re in relationship with someone. We have a decision, no matter what the problem which side of the line, which side of the net are we going to be on? It will help you calm down when you’re looking at your child having a tantrum, like if we’re talking about a tennis analogy. You have your partner. Your child is hitting a tennis racket on the ground, crying, tantrumming. It helps to remember that you’re on their team, that you’re not their opponent. Your tennis partner is having a hard time and your job is to help them, not lob a ball at them for a point while they’re down and I know that sounds a little ridiculous, but that’s what it feels like when we’ve had that thought like she’s doing this to me. He is giving me such a hard time and we’re shifting that thought and belief to the mantra. They are having a hard time, they are not giving me a hard time and the truth is your child is not enjoying the tantrum. They are struggling.
Even when it doesn’t look like it, you can have a kiddo who’s angry and yelling and hitting and kind of laughing at you and it still really isn’t about you. And it’s so tempting to hear the thoughts. They’re doing this to me. They know better and, yeah, it’s happening in your presence and they may know how to do it and regulate in other times, but they aren’t able to right now.
Their dysregulation is coming from what’s happening in their mind and in their body and it doesn’t make sense to us because we are not them. So as soon as you can connect and breathe, you want to get curious and start to wonder okay, why is my child writhing on the ground or spitting or whatever is happening in the tantrum? The dysregulation is the problem, not you, not your child. It can help you get on that same side of the problem by looking for their essential self and help, kind of, to see them as that little baby when they were born, or a memory, maybe having a memory ready for you to recall, of a sweet moment you had with them, when you can kind of get back in touch with that child, with that person who is really your child. But in the middle of their dysregulation, whatever you can do to ground you in your vision is going to really call you to come to them, even when they’re prickly and not at all welcoming. The very time that you’re feeling like they are your nemesis, the one making your life so hard, that’s the time I want you to call upon that vision of them as your beautiful child, because that is who is really underneath all of that and that’s what your child needs the most.
So when a child gets our emotional kind of recoil from them, our disgust with what they are doing, it can translate into disgust for them and they feel a serious separation from us. And it is terrifying for a child. Even amidst their dysregulation, it is such a scary thing. Your anger in response to their anger is very natural for us to feel, but the long-term message it instills in our kids’ feelings about themselves and their sense of connection is profound. And this is why parenting is so dang hard, because we have to be on our game. We’re trying so hard to be regulated so we’re ready to respond calmly rather than viscerally react. And I will confess to you I did not do this well all the time. I don’t think anyone does it well all the time. But the patterns we’re trying to put into place, even amidst our mistakes. It’s enough to get the message through to our kids that they’re safe with us and that we do see who they are underneath all of that dysregulation.
Number four is to become the detective and to ask the detective questions. Why is this happening right now? A formal way of saying this is what is stressing my child, what is triggering the stress response to turn on and I don’t know if you’re like me, I’m like what the heck? There’s nothing going on right now. Why are you melting down? But that’s never the case. There’s never nothing going on. That may be nothing that we can see, but there’s always something that is triggering this for our kids and we’re looking at stress in a really broad way. It may not be stress like we experience.
Stress that kind of is externally obvious to us. It could be something in your child’s environment that’s overwhelming to their sensory abilities. It could be the size of the room, the light in the room, the sounds in the room. It could be mixed with how much sleep your child has had or if they’re not feeling well. It could be that all of the things in their environment are coming at a time when they’re depleted. Normally they could handle it, but for some reason, this time they couldn’t.
Sometimes, at the end of the day, after being at school or paying attention and listening and following rules, a child comes home to us and they’re tired on the inside from all of that focus and all that management of their emotions all day, like there’s a big ocean of what we might call stressors that can affect our kids and notice there’s no judgment in this, like if there should or shouldn’t be. We’re not looking at whether they should or shouldn’t be stressed, because the fact is that they are. So there’s some radical acceptance here that takes judgment out and allows us to move into problem solving. And this is another way you get on the same side of the problem with your child, because we’re always assuming that if your child could manage their emotions, they would. So there’s something getting in their way. So with this framework, we can move to the next question, which is number five what could possibly reduce the stressors that my kiddo is facing? And when you’re in that role as an observer you’re gathering data from observing especially if you have a child that’s having multiple tantrums or a pattern of tantrums I want you to see this as an opportunity If this wasn’t your child and you weren’t so connected to the outcome and you weren’t so literally reflective of their feelings and you just came in as a research student making observations, you would be able to see patterns, maybe patterns that we can’t see when we’re so caught up in the emotions of it ourselves. So we’re looking for those patterns, we’re looking for data so we can try to kind of problem solve this.
Ultimately, what are we going to be able to help them learn to do to bring down their own stress Right? What do they need right now? A toddler just might need a nap. A teenager might need some connection with you or a chance to talk about their worries of the day. A child might need some wind down time or some help knowing how to transition from one activity to another. One thing we know they need is some co-regulation, which is why it’s so important we learn to stay calm and regulated so we can lend them our nervous system and they can actually kind of mirror our state. This is what co-regulation looks like.
Okay, how do you lend your nervous system? You start by keeping your voice low and calm. Your body is going to say to them this behavior doesn’t scare me. Now I don’t know if you have ever felt a little frightened or worried about your child’s behavior? I have. I’d see my child melting down, curling up, striking out, and I’d think, oh my gosh, they can’t be doing this. This is so scary. What if they never dot dot dot, learn how to play nice, follow directions, learn to use their words instead of their fists Like? We imagine all kinds of scary scenarios and we get stressed. Our systems turn on. So we’re working with that and reframing our thoughts to be safe. We’re making sense of the behavior in our minds so we can let go of the fear and respond with more vision and confidence.
This is my good kid who is having such a hard time right now. It’s his behavior, not my child, that is the problem. You’re always trying to keep your child, his essential self in your vision, focused on him and then see his behavior. When you think this way, you will feel this way In a later step. We’ll practice this. So when you’re thinking this way, it will be so much easier to have a calm facial expression, a low and steady voice, a tone that is connecting rather than threatening and this is where that phrase comes from connect before you correct, when you and your child kind of, are on the same page and you’re on the same side of the problem. Correcting is so much easier to do.
Okay, then you validate the first step in getting on the same side of the problem. Basically, speaking out loud what you are observing. I see you’re having a hard time with dot dot dot. You are feeling angry, sad, disappointed, whatever that is. What you’re doing is helping them see that they’re having these feelings. This is going to be their same path to regulation, where they can observe the feelings going on inside of them, label them and then work with them. But as kids they don’t know how to do that yet. When you validate them, you’re helping them label those feelings and then learn to work with them. And the last thing that I think you can try, when you’re lending them your regulation, your calm, is to touch their shoulder, touch their hand. If they’ll let you offer a hug, getting on their level, making eye contact, so calm voice, just your presence, offering a calmer state, will give them something to attach to, to attune to, so that they can co-regulate. Okay, number six hold your limits.
As we’re focusing on all these steps, I’m not suggesting that we let go of our boundaries or our requests and kind of give in, because when we give in, we’re usually just trying to stop the behavior. So our child stops tantruming and it works like really well, the fastest way to stop a tantrum is to give in. Let’s be honest, I think we all know this, but it’s deceiving to us and to our kids because when we give in and say, okay, okay, you can have that cookie or you don’t have to go now, or whatever we’re doing to kind of give in, what we’re really doing is interacting only with their behavior. Remember, it seems like things or circumstances are what cause us to be upset and kids are stuck in that trap. I’m mad because you said I had to stop my game, or my sister took my toy, or you won’t let me have that cookie, and it’s like that’s what’s making me so mad and why I’m yelling or crying. And of course that was the trigger. But the reason they’re yelling or hitting is because they don’t know how to deal with their feelings of disappointment or frustration. So we want to help them deal with their feelings of frustration and disappointment, not to make those feelings go away. Big, big difference. So the goal is that we’re helping them learn how to deal with those feelings, not giving into demands that we don’t feel are in their best interest. So we could still be understanding, but we also need to hold our boundaries and hold our requests so you can actually do both things at the same time hold to your limit and co-regulate with them.
I know you’re sad to leave your Legos and get in the car. You really wanted to keep playing. What can we do? That will make it a little easier to go. Can I help you take a few pieces with you? Can we plan to come back to it in a few minutes when we return? Can I help you with your shoes? And of course you don’t want to bombard them with those questions hammered off all in a no-transcript. But those are some options. You know it’s never okay. We will just stay until you’re ready to leave. Sometimes you can do that and it’s not a big deal, but most of the time you’re gonna have to hold to your limit or to your request.
And isn’t this so hard as a mom Like we have to set the vision, make the decisions, hold the limits and work with a child who has a totally different agenda and isn’t working our program and this is parenting. It’s really quite astounding that we don’t have more meltdowns and tantrums. In fact, I love thinking about all the times that your child is responding with cooperation and is going with the program, the times when they manage their disappointment and get in the car and go to the store or sit at church or sit quietly at that doctor’s appointment, and all of the hundreds of things they do each week that are so helpful and calm and pleasant. We have to remember those things too, because what we focus on becomes our reality, and I want you to stay focused on the reality of the essential value and goodness of your child. So we need to look for and remember the times when they are shining through, when they’re getting it, which is number seven. That’s our next step working with our expectations and preparing.
What you do when your child is not tantruming is just as important, maybe more important than what you do when they are melting down. This is your practice time, when you’re setting your own expectations to be reasonable rather than unrealistic. You want your expectations to have room for them to be learning, and you wanna prepare to face these challenges that they’re going to give you as they’re learning to regulate, just knowing they’re coming, because there’s no other way. Your child’s gonna learn these skills unless they practice them. They’re not good at it. Naturally, they will need to practice, and when you know that meltdowns and tantrums are part of the plan, then they’ll feel differently to you. If you didn’t have any meltdowns, no tantrums whatsoever, then you may actually have another problem. You may have a child who’s struggling with other things, with so much anxiety about letting others down, who’s holding in their feelings and imploding rather than exploding. And so it’s okay. It’s good to have kids who are falling apart once in a while.
I think we all just want that idealized version of a family who has kids that don’t melt down or talk back or struggle like they become that gold standard, and I don’t think it’s real. It’s not normal. So expect the dysregulation and the tantrums, whether they be from your three-year-old or your teenager. Don’t be afraid of them and please let’s not look at them as a report card for our parenting. This one’s hard, I know. Our parenting can’t be evaluated by whether our children are regulated all the time or not. They aren’t finished growing and learning. This is part of the process and we need to personally for us prepare for these tantrums and these meltdowns. In fact I love to have my moms write out the top three meltdown scenarios for their kids that they’re having and then mentally, literally, with closed eyes, slow breathing, kind of in a meditative state, imagine themselves walking through these steps in the face of the meltdown. So let’s do that here, right now.
Okay, my child comes through the door. See their little face at the age of your child. I’m thinking of one of my boys as a first grader getting off the bus. I can see his little shoulders tight, his expression. He comes in the door, drops his backpack on the foyer floor. He knows it should be hung up on the hook. His shoes need to go where they’re supposed to go, but when I ask him to hang up the pack he gets mad.
Sees his little brother holding one of his action figures, grabs it out of their hand and kind of pushes him and I can feel my chest getting tight. He just got home, he’s already grumpy, he’s not listening to me. I can feel myself getting angry and tight in my chest. I’m going to notice that my tight chest. Take a breath, recognize that his little struggle, his mood is not about me. It’s hard. It doesn’t match my vision. That sweet reunion, smiley seven-year-old hugging his little brother, kissing me on the cheek. That’s what I expected. That’s what I wanted. I’m noticing my expectation was there? My disappointment? It’s all okay, I’m not trying to change it, just understand that I had it and that’s why I’m feeling so upset right now and I’m imagining that I take the deep breaths and realize he isn’t doing this to me. This isn’t personal. Even when the teacher at the parent teacher conference says my boy is an angel and not like this at school, and then he comes home and does this, I’m still not taking it personal.
I’m going into detective mode, looking for the stressors for him. Curious, I’m getting curious and I’m feeling calmer. Now I can see myself regulated. I’m taking a deep breath. I’m going to get on the same side of the problem and be with him, start to co-regulate, calm voice, hold my boundary, what he can and can’t do as far as getting rough with his siblings. I’m going to hold that boundary, validating his feelings, offering him options to calm. Can we get you some water? How about you play outside for a few minutes? Switch gears from school. Can I give you a hug? Notice what seems to help him and what falls flat. And taking another big breath, see yourself getting through it, staying calm while he finally calms, and see yourself later maybe having a conversation with him.
Hey, I notice when you come home after school that you have a hard time sometimes. Do you notice that? What does it feel like for you? And I’m just wondering what might make things feel better, because I really want to help. You can practice that in your mind. Imagine all of those feelings and how you want to show up when it happens. Imagine the grocery store meltdowns, your teens stomping up the stairs, your kids pushing or shoving each other. Most of us try not to imagine or think about those things, but I want you to, from the position of a detective who is preparing not ruminating, not worrying and imagining the worst, but making it your project to try something different each time until you figure out what’s causing your child’s stress and how you might help them.
And we can front load these skills with our kids. Teach them about feelings and where they show up in their bodies and you can say later you know, when you were so mad, what did that feel like inside? Let me show you what I do when I feel that way. This breathing helps me and you can teach them the kids version of stretch breathing, where they pretend to take in a big breath and slowly blow out the candles on a birthday cake. You could even light some candles and have them practice.
In fact, I think there’s a really fun activity. I call it making a breathing cake, and you could do this for a family night, maybe even bake the cake together and then gather your family around a yummy cake with candles on it and take two minutes and tell them about the fight or flight feeling we all have in our bodies. I call it a little alarm. And when that little alarm goes off, hell. It kind of makes us feel upset and it’s hard for us to stay calm or listen or act like we want to. And I could even say to my kids I know you want to be kind to your sister, but when that alarm goes off and you feel all those big feelings, it’s hard. Right, it’s hard for me too. So I breathe, let me show you how I do it and let’s practice on this yummy cake and then you practice all together and you eat it when you’re done and think of the bonding, the safety you create when you’re talking about your own big feelings and the non-judgmental way you’re talking about theirs, with the assumption you share with them that you know they really just get dysregulated and that you all can learn how to do this regulation stuff. Okay, this is the basic framework of handling a tantrum and I know it’s not a menu of what to do in each specific tantrum situation. That would be a really big book, a really long podcast, and I don’t think we would ever cover every situation. So I really think it’s better for us to have a general framework that starts with.
Number one understanding that you’re separate from your child. There’s a you piece and a them piece and your job is to regulate yourself and not take this personally. Number two we have to get centered so that we can focus on our child’s needs. Number three recognize your child is having a hard time and if they could do it better right now, they would. So you’re going to be a partner, not an adversary, and get on the same side of the problem as your child.
Number four put on your detective hat and observe and gather data. Ask why now and what triggers? Number five ask yourself what can reduce the stress? What does my child need? Number six lend them your nervous system so that they can co-regulate with you. Number seven hold to our limits and decisions. Number eight prepare, practice handling the next tantrum and teach your child skills when they’re not in the middle of the tantrum. The time to teach is after a tantrum, not during. We’re going to hold on to them during and teach after.
Okay, that’s a quick review on how to get a mindset together around handling tantrums, meltdowns and all of those hard things that our kids go through when they’re emotionally dysregulated. So take a deep breath today, not just one. Take a lot of deep breaths today as you’re doing this really important job of parenting your children. They are so lucky to have you and we are so lucky to have them. Thanks for spending this time with me today. Together, we’re going to figure this out step by step as they grow and learn and gain these skills. Keep the vision in mind. Hold the confidence for them. Together, we are all going to get to the finish line. I’ll be back next week. I look forward to talking to you then. Take care, hey, friends, if you enjoyed this podcast and the information that we’re sharing, would you please consider sharing it with your friends, other moms that you know, and also leave a review or a rating. Wherever you listen to your podcasts, it can sometimes be hard to find me, so if you can leave a review or share this information, that will help others get the skills and tools that they need to build resilience in their lives too. Thanks so much for joining me.
The Leadership Parenting Podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again, and take care.