Let me ask you... can you sit with your feelings? Those big, horrible, uncomfortable and loud feelings? It's difficult to sit with these as adults, we just want them to go away. So when our children express their big feelings like this, we want to it to go away for them as well.
We jump into fix it mode. This might fix the tantrum in the moment, however, it doesn't help our child regulate their emotions and get back into balance.
I see you, I hear you, and I understand what you need right now.
This is what children are wanting to hear or to feel when they are out of balance and in the throes of a meltdown or a tantrum. If we're being honest with ourselves here, it's what we as parents want to hear from our partners or loved ones when we're feeling a little off as well.
Those three phrases above have an immense power and help us feel instantly connected to the person saying them, whether out loud or with their actions and body language. This is basically co-regulation in action.
Children are asking every day whether they are seen, heard, safe and belong in all the ways that they know how to do. Their emotions are intense because they haven't yet developed the capacity to independently regulate. These emotions and behaviours cause us stress because such an outburst of emotion is not how society raised us to express our needs and their brains are still developing the capacity to regulate independently. Unfortunately, this is not how regulation works and it's not the way to teach regulation either.
The only way our child can learn to regulate is through co-regulation.
Feelings can't be stifled, they can't be shut down; they will just crop up in other areas. My guess is that if you're reading this, you understand this concept. However, understanding this and modelling this to our children is hard. We've got years of training in not showing those big, ugly feelings in public. So when our children are having a tantrum, it ignites that stress response in us as well and we just want it to go away (hello fight, flight and freeze response).
We need to do the opposite, we need to sit with it.
We need to model how to sit with these feelings. We need to breathe deeply in the same space as our child. We need to get down to their level and tell them we understand they're angry. We need to tell our kids that we can handle this outburst; that even though these big feelings are scary, we're right there with them and they are safe. We hold the boundary and we sit with these big, ugly, intense emotions and we model how to do this.
Facing the tantrum head on and helping your child let it out, rather than escape it, will not only shorten the length of the tantrum, it will help your child learn how to regulate in the future. This is where the magic is.
Alex has just released her Tuning into Tantrums workshop available now over on her website www.kidsflourish.net where you can get more advice on what to do with the behaviours that inevitably come up when our children are in the throes of a tantrum such as hitting, head banging and yelling.