4 Tips for Dealing with Tantrums During the Coronavirus Pandemic
We are living through undeniably difficult times as the reality of coronavirus touches nearly every aspect of our lives. All of us are affected by financial insecurity, the challenges of quarantine, and the uncertainty of what the future holds.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by our emotions and our list of things to do - especially if we have young children home with us. Many parents have reached out for advice regarding the challenges they are experiencing because of social distancing; children miss friends and care providers, ask to be on screens all day, test new boundaries and act out against change. This usually means that already exhausted parents are dealing with an increase in tantrums and meltdowns.
As awful as these power struggles may be, this is a good time to pause and take a moment to respect the intuitive wisdom our children possess. They sense the changes, they feel the increased stress, they hear the urgent tones and, like all of us, they are needing reassurance, stability and predictability. While you cannot change the reality of our global pandemic, there are several ways you can help kids get their needs met.
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Here are my four revolutionary tips to overcome challenging behaviors in times of crisis:
Make Sure Everyone Is Well-Rested
Brain scientists like Matt Walker keep telling us that sleep is directly connected to our physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Sleep also supports optimal immune function - for our kids and for us. Our current crisis is a great time to get your kiddos to sleep earlier than usual, and let them sleep in until their body wakes them up. Incorporate some additional connection to your bedtime routine with a back massage, doing some relaxing yoga poses together, or reading an extra book. Make sure to follow the same sequence each night to provide predictability and calming.
Listen More - Talk Less
This is really hard to do, and yet when we stop lecturing or “shoulding” on kids, it’s really helpful. For me this means generally using fewer words and avoiding consequences by trying to understand what leads to unwanted behaviors in the first place. According to Dan Siegel’s research, helping children to feel seen and heard increases their overall well-being. I’ve noticed first hand that listening to and validating my child’s emotions increases my problem solving odds, and prevents the same situation from unfolding again and again.
Instead of saying “What are you doing? You KNOW we don’t blow bubbles in the house, it makes such a mess! Now you’re going to have to clean this up.”
Try: “Hmmm, what’s your plan with those bubbles, my friend?”
Another example: Instead of saying “NO! No no! We don’t hit, that’s not nice, you know better!”
Try: “Ouch, (reach out to stop the offending hand, foot, or teeth) I’m here to help you get what you want without hurting anyone. How can I help you?”
“Notice” When They Are Independent, Responsible, and Cooperative
Many unwanted toddler behaviors come in response to a child’s deep desire to have more control; they really do want to be cooperative, independent and responsible in ways they can. While it may feel strange at first to talk to a child like an adult, I encourage you to try it and see what you discover.
- Independent: “You are learning to do so many things all by yourself, aren’t you? I see you climbing up into your seat and getting yourself dressed. You’re working hard!”
- Responsible: “Did you just put your clothes in the laundry hamper? Thank you! That’s so responsible, you know just where they go, don’t you?”
- Cooperative: “Wow - I see how cooperative you are these days. I know it’s not always fun to brush your teeth or put away your toys, and your help is much appreciated.”
Toddlers want nothing more than to “do it myself!!” so keep noticing and acknowledging your child’s developing skills when you see them try. It will mean a lot to them.
STOP a Tantrum In Its Tracks
When your child is melting down, or you notice that you’re becoming angry and about to blow your top, use the STOP method:
- Stop - talking, yelling, lecturing, etc.
- Take 3-5 deep breaths
- Observe your feelings and thoughts, and those of your child.
- Proceed with compassion for yourself and your kiddo. What do you need right now? How could you reassure and create stability for your child?
The great news is that there are tools to help parents stay calmer and connect more deeply with their kiddos at any age. Using mindful parenting practices helps us to solve problems more efficiently and experience fewer breakdowns. During this uncertain time, less tension and more connection supports the whole family.
Looking for ways to keep the kids busy and learning during social distancing? Sign up for the Prepared Parent, a daily newsletter filled with everything to help mom and dad in their roles as teacher-parents.
Kristine Petterson is a highly sought-after yoga instructor, birth doula, certified sleep consultant, and mindful parenting educator. She’s dedicated to creating a sense of freedom and support for other families so they feel more capable, thriving and nurtured. Kristine’s classes and packages support families in changing old unwanted patterns. Her Facebook community inspires laughter and learning together without judgement. Kristine lives in Idaho with her husband and two daughters.