Join the conversation

Earlier today, my 2 year old was exuberantly happy. Then, without warning, he was upset. No, not upset, he was devastated. Fortunately, he told me how he was feeling: he screamed, shouted, threw his milk, cried, held me close, pushed me away, yelled, sobbed, grabbed his milk, then threw it again.

My toddler was upset.

Meltdowns or tantrums can build slowly or erupt without warning; either way, they are unavoidable.

Some FAQs:

  • What is wrong?
  • Am I a bad parent?
  • Is my child a bad child?
  • What am I doing wrong?
  • Why? Why? Why?
  • How do I make it stop?

THE BAD NEWS: There is no way to stop emotion.

THE GOOD NEWS: All tantrums end. Eventually. 

THE BEST NEWS: There is one simple way to tame a tantrum.*

DISCLAIMER: This strategy works best when the grown up is not on the verge of a meltdown too. So, if needed, get some space, take a few deep breaths, then dive in.


 

Tame the tantrum

Young children are learning to understand a world that doesn’t understand them. How stressful and frustrating that must be. Seemingly small events (the ball has snow on it) can trigger huge emotions and it falls to us to help our children navigate them. 

When in the presence of an erupting child, we are witnessing one side of a conversation. We can either participate in the conversation or reject it.

Imagine: you are talking to a trusted friend or family member about a struggle or difficulty you are going through, but they do not have time to deal with your problems. They reject you or yell at you. They tell you to be quiet. Perhaps they suggest you sit alone to think about it.

How would you feel?


Join the conversation

join the conversation

  1. Children are humans.
  2. Humans have emotions.
  3. To escalate emotion, ignore or reject attempts at communication.

SO…

  1. Be present
    Sometimes, we need to cuddle. Sometimes, we need to give space (and be close). A small, gentle touch will often help. Mostly, we need to be there. Be quiet. Listen (yes, listen to the crying). Crying is talking. We can soothe, nod, agree, and participate in the conversation without dispensing advice.
  2. Take turns
    Just like in conversation. When there is a pause, it is our turn to speak. It may be a two word phrase, or maybe we can say a little more. Follow the rhythm of the conversation. When a person is upset, they are vulnerable. Let them control the flow (this does not mean they control what we say, that is always up to us).
  3. Identify
    Children, like most humans, listen when we are talking with them; not at them. Identify how the child is feeling, and narrate it. This simple act shows the child that we understand. It will also help to develop the language skills they will need in the future.
  4. Resolve
    The sign of a good conversation is one where everyone has been heard. To show we have listened, summarize the conversation. Encourage the child to show they have listened by asking a couple of questions:

We don’t need to tame our toddlers, we need to transform the tantrum.

SAMPLE CONVERSATION

Child: NOOOOOOOOO!!! Aaaagh! (sobs, screams, kicks, stamps, throws self on floor, picks up a block, throws it, etc…)

Adult: (Calmly intercepts the chaos. Holds child and listens to crying). You were so mad that the blocks wouldn’t line up you threw one! Do we throw blocks?

Child: No (sobbing and sniffing).

Adult: That’s right. Because they are hard. They can hurt someone. Can you think of something we can throw?

Child: Balls.

Adult: Yes, that’s right. Soft balls. Would you like to play with a ball or your blocks?

Child: Green ball.

Adult: OK. Let’s clean up the blocks. Can you help me?

Child: (helps put blocks away)

Adult: Here’s the green ball. I love you.

Child: (bounces ball and laughs)

A tantrum is a one-sided, emotional conversation. We don’t need to tame our toddlers, we need to transform the tantrum.

Oh, and if this seems like a lot of effort, it is so much easier than a prolonged and stressful screaming match.

Keep buzzin’

 * There is not only one strategy to fit all circumstances; this is merely my first response as a teacher, caregiver, and parent. It’s simple. It works. AND, as a bonus, each time we choose to listen instead of scold, we reinforce a healthy relationship with the child. It also becomes progressively easier to set and stick to boundaries. 

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Advent Presents!

Yes, you read that right… I am suggesting Advent presents!!!

And, I cannot wait to try it.

Each year, I devise a simple and Advent activity (it’s more of a Christmas countdown in Japan) for my students. This year, as my son is about to turn 2, I wanted to do something with my family; something with the potential to evolve over the years and become a family tradition.

Fortunately, my husband and I had a disagreement about the “big” Christmas present; should it be from Santa or Mummy and Daddy? We both grew up with different family traditions and they conflicted. And there, in conflict, was an idea.

Of course, I am not talking about a new present every day. I am talking about one gift, wrapped 25 times! We just unwrap a little everyday. And there is SO MUCH POTENTIAL!!!

I love ideas that act like gremlins in a swimming pool; my whole body bubbles with excitement. The problem is, when you have an idea explosion it is really difficult to simplify and explain it to others. I have had to sit on this for a week, because every time I tried to write or talk about it, I would disappear into a tornado of possibilities and confuse myself, never mind who I was talking to.


So how does it work?

Hakuba Childcare Present opening

This year, my husband and I will buy a gift for our son. We will loosely wrap it using contrasting tissue paper. Every day, our son can take some paper off and throw it around, or scrunch it, or use it in a craft, or eat it…

And that is it. On Christmas day, he will unwrap the final piece of paper to find a present (from his parents)!

Simple, easy, and not much preparation. I don’t even need to be a Pinterest mom; it doesn’t matter if the wrapping is appalling!


A few future adaptations:

Treats
Treats can be placed inside each layer (or every few layers)

Game, Task, or Challenge Cards (Download printable for ideas.)
Under each layer is a card with some kind of task or question. Older children can write their own cards.

Speculate
Guess the present. What a fun way to generate conversation. Families could even keep track and award a prize to the earliest accurate guess.

Secret Santa
Incorporate this in your usual Secret Santa activity – it means you need to be a little more organised and have your presents bought and wrapped a little earlier than usual, but it adds a nice bit of spice.

Wrap challenge
Try to wrap the gifts creatively to disguise them as something else.

(Silent) Pass the Parcel
Have one present. Set a timer on your phone for a random number of seconds/minutes. Pass the parcel around the each participant. When the timer goes off, the person holding the present unwraps it (or is eliminated and the last person gets to unwrap one layer).

More…
Blend a few of the ideas above. Add your own ideas. Let your family suggest ideas. Have fun with it and let me know in the comments if you try it or have any inspiration to share.

British English Printable

American English Printable

Why?

This weekend I, like many others, learned of the horrific acts of violence in Paris. I learned of tragedy and more tragedy, around the world. Again. 

The blog I was planning to write didn’t happen. So many questions, the foremost being, “why?” What do these attacks achieve, other than heartache and pain? 

Like a child I keep asking, “Why?”

When children ask, “Why? Why? Yes, but Why?” is it because they are as perplexed at the world as I am today?

And what do we say to our children when they ask about the awful things that happen in the world? How do we explain that the world is not the beautiful place we want it to be?

I am consumed by thoughts for all the families. Parents have lost children. Children have lost parents. Siblings have lost brothers and sisters. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and co-workers have been brutally taken. Families have been irrevocably changed; damaged. How can this be anyone’s victory? 

Why?

There is no reason. There is only hope. That hope is our children. 

As I type this, I look at my son playing. I gaze at him and know that parenting is not about bedtime routines or limiting screen time; parenting is love. Parenting is about sending our kids into the world to brighten it. It is our job, to help our kids be a promise of a better, safer, more beautiful world.