Picture it: You and your four-year-old are having a great time at the grocery store; picking out fruits and vegetables together, chatting, and counting. All of a sudden, you realize you don’t have enough time to turn the cart around as you approach the tiny, but very visible toy aisle. These are cheap toys, the kind that hurt if you accidentally step on them, the kind that breaks on day three. There are two other carts in the way, and you don’t make a U-turn in time. Your four-year-old makes eye contact with a pack of seven little cars.
“Can I have those??”
“Sorry, not today. We’re here to buy food. Let’s go look at the cereal!”
Your efforts to distract are not successful this time. Then it begins. A tantrum: eyes filling with tears, fists balled up, the STARE. This situation sounds dramatic, because, to your little best friend wailing in the cart, it feels like the end of the world.
No matter how many books we may read, nothing will prepare us for dealing with tantrums from our own unique child. Parenting is a game of trial and error, cause and effect. Here are how 3 different families deal with BIG FEELINGS and what to do during a tantrum.
Tips for temper tantrums
Faith and Family team members, Denise, Macy, and Brother Jeff all have children ranging from 10 months to 8 years old. Here are their experiences with dealing with tantrums and working through big feelings:
Gideon is 8 and Junee is 4. My children are strong-willed. They get an idea in their head, see it through, and have strong emotions if things get in their way. Unfortunately, it can lead to things getting out of control and frustration for them and their dad, and me.
It’s been a long process for us to dial back our own emotions and tell ourselves that our kids are not responsible for how we feel. It’s our responsibility to reframe our minds and deal with the situation in a calm way. It’s our kids’ responsibility to learn how to reign in their emotions as well and use their voices to tell us what they need. What never worked was yelling. As humans, even with good intentions, sometimes our feelings get the best of us and we raise our voices. While it may have worked at the moment, because the kids were too stunned to speak, it never worked for us in the long run. Any yelling we did added distrust and fear.
What does work is addressing their feelings and listening to what they’re trying to express. Usually, they lash out because we’re busy doing something else, and they just want a moment of our time.
Once, while I was doing laundry, Junee had a meltdown because she wanted to play a game. I asked her to wait and she didn’t want to. I still needed to help her learn patience, so she rode her tantrum out in a safe place in our home. But when I was able to sit with her and let her cry, I told her I understood that she wanted to play, but she needed to wait. I’m still not sure if she understood fully, but she was able to calm down. It turns out that she didn’t even really want to play a game, but wanted my attention, to acknowledge her, or to just sit with her for a moment. Sometimes, there are underlying reasons like that for their big feelings.
My 8-year-old Gideon is the same way, but since he’s older now, he can express himself better when he needs some time to think. My husband and I have taught them to take some time to think and process how they feel. Usually, Gideon will go to his room to cool down and draw or read. When he’s ready to talk, he comes out and everyone is calm after having some time to think.
One thing I repeat to myself is that if my kids are afraid to come to me because they think I’ll yell at them, then what kind of parent am I to them if I can’t be their comfort?
As a working mother, it can be very difficult to allocate time to your children and maintain balance with household needs as well. I try my best to be present for my three-year-old daughter, Madden, as she was raised a “pandemic child” with 24/7 access to her parents. During quarantine, we both worked from home and temporarily moved in with her grandparents. This situation put Madden at the center of the spotlight, all day every day. We were able to attend to her immediately, spend one-on-one time every day, and establish routines quickly. It became more difficult with the arrival of my second daughter, Maxine, who is now eight months old.
Madden is currently having a hard time with sharing. Whether it is sharing her belongings, sharing attention, or sharing space—she was so accustomed to being the center of attention. That feeling sparks a sense of competition in her, which can turn into a meltdown, so we as parents have to remember to watch our words.
Instead of saying, “You have to be quiet because Maxine is sleeping”, we say, “It’s quiet time, let’s see how long we can stay whisper.” Because Madden is such a picky eater, we used to compare and say “Look how much so and so is eating…” or “So and so loves this.” Now we just relate food to growth and health, and say “Wow, you’re eating so well! Let’s measure your height and see how much you’re growing!”
This means continuous learning and correction for us as parents, to be able to use our words wisely and as a positive tool for helping our children deal with their feelings and self-image.
She just recently had a meltdown at a convenience store because she locked eyes with a Spongebob Squarepants popsicle. I told her she had to pick something else because it wasn’t healthy. She was already dressed for worship service that evening and I did not want her to make a mess on her clothes.
Frowning, with her hand firmly grasped onto the freezer handle, she said “Spongebob,” her eyes deadlocked with mine.
I knelt down to her level and calmly said, “Madden, you just had ice cream. Let’s look for something more healthy.” I held out my hand and she planted her feet.
My negotiation tactics failed to work this time as she immediately burst into tears. I was the bad guy to this angelic-looking child. We were in a standoff and no one was backing down. I wanted to leave everything and just bring her to the car to finish crying and to save me from embarrassment.
I was about to pick her up when an older worker approached us and said, “Now why is this beautiful baby girl crying? She’s too cute to be crying like this, especially being dressed so nicely. Can I give her a cookie? On me.”
I was partly embarrassed because it felt like she thought I needed help. At the same time, I was also relieved because she offered another solution. I looked at Madden and said, “If you stop crying, this nice lady said you can pick out a cookie.”
This seemed to work and we went to pick out a veggie and cracker snack box as well as the cookie she was promised.
When we were back in the car, I asked her if she understood what happened. I told her that the worker thought she was dressed up so pretty in her worship service attire, which was the same reason Mommy did not want her to make a mess with ice cream. She said “Oh I see now!” as she happily munched on her victory cookie.
Above all else, guard your affections. For they influence everything else in your life.
Proverbs 4:23 The Living Bible
Co-parenting two children with my wife and performing as a minister, my primary goal above all is to assist in raising our kids in the ways God intends it should be. As the verse mentioned above, as a parent, I should be a role model in guarding my affections and emotions. This is especially important when our children are experiencing emotions they’re still learning how to control.
Kassidy, my firstborn, is a 5-year-old who acts like she’s eleven years old. When things don’t go her way we’re reminded that she still needs lots of guidance.
Expectations as parents are very normal. One minute kids are cool and collected, but sometimes that is just the calm before the storm. The worst part is that sometimes, kids throw tantrums about things that don’t make sense, and as parents, we have to try to piece together this puzzle…or just stay calm until it’s over.
One day Kassidy was playing with a toy. She got up and left the toy to play with something else. Kassidy saw a friend pick up her discarded toy and started playing with it. This was when Kassidy started to tantrum. She did not want that friend to play with that toy. We tried to ease her kicking and screaming by giving the toy back to Kassidy, but it was no use. Although her playmate was the same age and probably has tantrums of his own, he was very calm and looked shocked at what was happening and didn’t want to switch toys with KD either. Funny that our little ones can be so possessive and prideful at such a young age, or perhaps it’s just toddlers being stubborn-minded!
We forget at times that logic goes out the window when BIG FEELINGS are in the picture. During meltdowns, it’s vital parents keep their cool. As mentioned in the verse, “Above all else, guard your affections. For they influence everything else in your life.” Kassidy might have stopped yelling if I yelled back and became angry, but that would’ve resulted in terror and distrust. Instead, I helped her inside and consoled her, helped her calm down, and addressed her feelings, which is such an important piece to a peaceful resolution.
Later on in the day, when everyone was calm, my wife and I addressed the episode with our daughter. I reminded her to guard her heart especially when she’s upset or angry, and that she can have big feelings that might cause damage to others. I reminded her that God blessed her with a heart and a brain to think before she acts.
I explain to my daughter that if she listens to her strong emotions, she might say something hurtful. But if she uses her mind instead to think about what is right or wrong, she could make a better decision.
Tantrums happen. Big feelings happen. It’s unavoidable with children. They are still learning about the world around them and how they deal with situations in it. It’s normal for them to feel overwhelmed—to not know how to express what they truly need. Perhaps, their tantrum means they need closeness from you, or they’re tired, or overstimulated, or they don’t understand what’s going on.
It’s also normal for parents to feel triggered by their child’s behavior. In the end, young children don’t mean to anger their parents when they have a tantrum. They’re growing, just as you are growing as a parent.
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 New Revised Standard Version
Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction. Ephesians 6:4 Good News Bible
What is one way to find calm and stillness when a situation feels chaotic? Prayer. Your child may be in the throes of an epic meltdown but uttering a quick prayer for guidance shows God that you trust Him.
Above everything may we remember how God our Father parents us, with true (divine, Godly) love. Therefore, as parents, we were given the responsibility to help raise our children and make the adjustments needed especially to never surrender or give up trying to be the best parents we need to be for our kids whom God blessed us with.
Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 The Living Bible
For kid-friendly content on how to navigate big feelings, check out this video from INC Kids!