Is your child too old for tantrums?
While we can see times are changing, the mentality around how children should behave is still very old fashioned. In the last 10-20 years alone science has come so far in helping us to understand our child's brain development and yet we still get triggered when kids act like kids.
In this post we will look at why kids behaviour is triggering for us, what age do tantrums stop, how offering a do-over can benefit the family and how to help your child tune into how they are feeling to prevent tantrums.
Why does kids acting like kids trigger us?
I was sat in a cafe' once with my baby and my young child, maybe 5 at the time. Baby was sleeping so me and my 5 year old were having a nice time together, having hot chocolate and playing with these two beautiful wooden cars. When we were packing up to go, an elder man leaned in and said "You should write a book, your children are so well behaved." I was delighted by this, it felt good.
Then the baby got older..... he started losing his mind at cafes and days out and no matter how calm I stayed, no one came over and said I should write a book. Instead looks of pity, expectant looks to see how I was going to put him in his place, looks of judgement and then of course every now and then a look of 'been there'.
It is easy to see how we have been programmed to believe that a child's behaviour is a reflection on our parenting. How many times have you heard about a teenager up to no good and heard "Where are their parents?!".
When we think about a child's behaviour as a reflection of us, instead of tuning in to what is really going on, we miss an opportunity to support our child. It becomes about us, instead of about them.
They are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time.
I think this quote is so important. When a child is 'acting out' or having a tantrum or a melt down, we have to remember it is not about us, we have to let that go in order to be present with them and connect with what they need.
Are tantrums just for toddlers?
I'm not proud to admit this but I have stormed off from my kids in a huff, slammed a door and had my own little tantrum. I caught myself doing this before and after I actually laughed, and said to myself "What are you doing?". It felt ridiculous but I was just so overwhelmed, overstimulated, probably over tired and it just happened! Our nervous systems react before our brain. If our nervous system feels under attack in any way or unsafe, it sends signals to the brain and the brain will back it up. The brain says yes, you are right, this is trouble, get out of here!
That is our flight mode. You may have heard the term fight of flight or fight, flight, freeze. What this is, is our sympathetic nervous system keeping us safe. Very helpful when we are in danger, not so helpful when it thinks your kids are the danger.
If this can happen to adults, then of course it can happen to children of any age. The trick is knowing how to calm yourself, catch yourself in that moment. This takes practice and they're not going to get it right every time, just like I didn't get it right this time with slamming a door.
I know plenty of adults who have tantrums and do not know how to come back from it. They stay stuck for ages. 'One thing' (most likely a series of things that led up to this in the background) can seemingly ruin the whole day. Their nervous system is stuck in fight or flight (more on that in a moment) and they are not having a good time.
One example of this is Nina. Nina is a mum of three and she took her kids to the zoo. After being triggered by her children whining about ice-cream and not wanting to walk any more, needing to be carried, and one kid just kept wondering off and not listening she snapped. Her nervous system could not take any more. She shouted at the kids and said they are leaving right this moment. The kids cried, she felt burning red and dragged the kids out of the Zoo as quickly as possible. When they got home and she had calmed down a bit, she felt this awful pang of guilt, the whole day had been ruined.
A calmer Nina, may have been able to address the children's behaviour and went on to have a nice day full of connection, but a dysregulated adult can not help a child to regulate.
So what did I do?
The laughter helped bring me back to the present for a moment, and then I knew I had to calm my nervous system down. I find the best way to do this is through the breath. I connected back to breath. Taking a slow breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth. I did this five times. Then I picked myself up off the floor, opened the door and went back to my kids who were happily playing (probably instead of going to bed, I can't remember what my tantrum was all about but it was likely that they just weren't listening). I apologize to my children where I need to, if I've shouted or said anything that 'calm me' would never say. Now is a time for a do-over.
What is a do-over?
Do-overs are something I practice with the kids, and I also need one myself sometimes. It is not fair for me to have a do-over but never let them have one, right? There is a very common power dynamic that plays out in the traditional family model of parents being able to do and say what they want with no repercussions and if children say something out of line or act a certain way, they get punished. I'm not a fan of that. I like to practice mutual respect with my children, they are not afraid to call me out if they can see I need to go and take a few breaths. They don't live in fear of me, instead we work together as a team. This doesn't mean they agree with me 100% of the time. Far from it. I still say no and hold boundaries and rules, but it does mean that they are comfortable expressing themselves, sharing how they feel and telling me if they don't like something. There is open communication.
A do-over allows us to rewind the situation and play out a better way. In a do-over we are more aware about our emotional state and what we are needing to express. It allows for better communication (verbal and non-verbal) and a chance for connection.
If adults have tantrums, does that mean there is no hope of my child stopping?
We have spoke about why our body suddenly goes into tantrum mode as adults even, but with children they are still developing. Their brain will not be fully developed until they are in their mid 20s! Understanding this development helps us to stay calm. I think one reason we get triggered is because we feel like maybe they are manipulating us or just trying to get their own way. When we see that isn't the case and just stories we have heard or that have been passed down to us, we can stop buying into that and focus instead on connection.
With practice of self-awareness and self-regulation tools, children may be able to calm themselves or express themselves differently than a tantrum but sometimes they wont. Sometimes that tantrum is going to help move some of that pent up stress and emotions through the body. So it is not a bad thing, it just is what it is.
How can you support a child who tantrums a lot?
I have a guide book that goes into this in much greater detail. It has some coping strategies, some life changing tips for the parent and some Yoga and mindfulness practices that will help your child too.
You can get your copy here : Calm seas
In summary, we have looked at why kids behaviour is triggering for us, why tantrums are for any age, how offering a do-over can benefit the family and how self-awareness can help your child tune into how they are feeling to prevent tantrums. We have also looked at why your child having tantrums is not a reflection on you, and why you should focus on connection over how you think they should behave.
How do you feel when your child of any age, has a tantrum? Do you take it personally by saying something like "I've spoilt you rotten today, why are you treating me like this?" or do you feel flustered at not being able to calm them? Maybe you feel something completely different. Comment below.
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