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You’re Not A Bad Parent

By Kelly Guidry, LPC-S

Have you ever been in the grocery store and your precious, sweet, kindhearted child decides they want cereal and they make sure everyone in the store knows it?  In fact, the child may have the same exact cereal at home already, but instead of remembering, recognizing, and understanding this, they go into a full on temper tantrum. Most parents have experienced, to some degree, the embarrassing, and senseless, public tantrum. Even the professionals like us!! It’s like a rite of passage as a parent, even though in the moment it can seem like you are the only person with a difficult kid.

Whether tantrums are in public places or in the privacy of your own home, they are not a pleasant experience for anyone involved.  Tantrums often cause a sense of embarrassment and make parents question their own competency. What can parents do before, during, and after tantrums to help tame the tantrum?

Before the Tantrum

  • Have a special play time with your kid every day.  Even if this is only for a few minutes, dedicate your attention to showing them you value and love playing with them.
  • Talk to them about their feelings and label their feelings when you see them, this will help them develop the language to express their feelings when they get upset.
    • “You are starting to breathe faster and get frustrated that you can’t climb up the playset by yourself”
  • Model how to handle frustrations when you get upset. Do things to “cool down” and talk about this as you do it.
    • You can narrate your thoughts.  I’m feeling really upset because I forgot to go to the grocery store and get the stuff for dinner.  It’s okay to be upset, I know that sometimes I get in a hurry and this happens. I’m going to take a 10 second cool down to think about what I can do for dinner.
  • Give incentives
    • You want to make sure that you give incentives before your child is in the middle of a tantrum.  Lay down the foundation so they know what the behavioral expectations are before going into a situation

During the Tantrum

  • Stay Calm!  The number one thing as a parent is to find a way to make sure that you stay calm.  Find a way to take some deep breaths, keep your voice a normal level, and remember you child does not mean what they are saying even if it may be hurtful to you.
  • Offer Support
    • Often times your kiddo just needs to know that you get they are frustrated, upset, angry, etc.  By letting them know that you know they are feeling upset and that you are there to help this will help them begin to calm down.  Some kids like to be hugged or shown affection when they are in the middle of a tantrum. Take their lead on the support they need.
  • Distraction
    • The power of distraction can go a long way.  Have some tricks up your sleeve that will help them engage a different part of their brain.
  • Let them get it out
    • As I was recently told by a kiddo, “Sometimes I just need to get out my cries”.  Its okay to let them have their space (as long as they aren’t hurting themselves or others) and figure out a way to self regulate in the moment.  This will also help them build the self confidence in knowing they have the ability to calm down.

After the Tantrum

  • Show affection.
    • Make sure you let your child know you love them. This is really important after a big melt down.
  • Have them clean up any messes they made and apologize if they hurt anyone.  Letting them know that you love them, but they have to be accountable for their actions helps them learn personal responsibility.
  • Continue to model positive ways to handle big emotions and talk about this frequently with your kid.

Tantrums are not a sign that you are a bad parent.  Just FYI, studies have shown that the majority of “public judging” when it comes to tantrums in public places revolves around how the parent is responding to the child, not that the child is having a tantrum.  Show yourself some compassion and know your child doesn’t want to have a tantrum as much as you don’t want them to.

Remember, You are NOT a bad parent!

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