Public Displays of DisasterJanuary 10, 2019
Most parents of young children (even Prince William!) are familiar with public tantrums. When you child completely loses it in the grocery store or at school pick-up, it’s hard to avoid feeling judged or angry at this out-of-control behavior. So what can you do in these moments to reduce the stress both for yourself and your child? This week’s tip is from our expert advisor Claire Lerner and Zero to Three.
Ignore the Onlookers
Ideally, just tune them out. Most are likely feeling your pain, having been there themselves, and aren’t judging. And for those feeling some guilty pleasure that it’s not them in the hot seat, ignoring is still a good strategy so you can stay focused on coming up with a productive response to helping your child cope.
Or, “Kill ‘em with Kindness”
If a bystander makes an unhelpful comment (“I think he’s hungry”, or “His diaper may be dirty”), avoid being reactive. Instead, try: “It’s so nice that you want to help, but I’m all good. Learning that he can’t get everything he wants is a hard lesson for a little guy, right?” This is a nice way to send some important messages and it can be a particularly good strategy when it is your mother, in-laws, or another close friend or family member who is trying to help.
If you are anxious and upset, your child is more likely to be anxious and upset. If you are calm and composed, she is likely to pull herself together more quickly. So while your emotional reaction is understandable, it is not strategic to come on strong, because it tends to escalate rather than calm your child. When she is falling apart, she needs you to be her rock. Best to take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that, if you lose it too, it will likely make the situation at hand more stressful and challenging.
Validate your child’s feelings
“I know you’re angry that I’m not giving you more chocolate.” Validating feelings is not the same as validating behavior. Feelings aren’t the problem—they just are. It’s what kids (and parents) do with their feelings that can be problematic. That’s why one of your most important jobs is to help your child learn to manage these strong, difficult emotions in ways that are pro-social. But that takes time and practice. And it starts with validation—which helps children feel understood—and is the first step in helping them identify and then manage these emotions.
Children having breakdowns when they don’t get their way is a normal part of growing up. When you respond calmly and empathically, and set clear limits that you can enforce, you send both your child and the onlookers the message that you’re all good—calm and in control. Visit Claire Lerner’s website here and Zero to Three here for lots more information.