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Stopping the Tantrums: Teaching Kids How to Soothe and Calm Themselves

"In my brain I imagine that I have cards that help me sort out my thoughts, but when I get angry it's as though the cards are all scattered and I can't find the one I need."
– Jason, age seven

Eight-year-old Zachery and four-year-old Ben were sitting at opposite ends of a rectangular dining room table playing "soccer." Actually, their ball was a small leather triangle, and instead of kicking it they were flicking it with their fingers from one end of the table to the other. A point was earned if, with one flick, the triangle slid across the table onto the place mat on the opposite end. Bodies relaxed, voices gleeful, initially both boys were having fun. But over time Ben tired. Coordinating his "flick" was tough for a four-year-old, and his "ball" started to slide off the table short of the goal. He sat straighter in his chair as his body tensed and his voice rose louder and sharper as he lamented his misses. "Are you getting frustrated?" I asked him. He turned to me, startled by my question, but didn't answer. "Do you want to stop?" I continued. "No," he declared firmly. "Would you like to take a break?" I asked. He stopped and looked at me once more, but still declined my offer. That's when I said to him, "When I see you sitting up straighter in your chair and I hear your voice getting louder, it makes me think you're feeling frustrated. When people are frustrated, it helps if they take a break and then go back to their game. Do you think you'd feel better if you took a break?"

This time he sighed in relief, said, "Okay," and jumped down from his chair.

"How did you do that?" his mother gasped. "Ben's the kid who always blows up!"

Teaching kids how to recognize their emotions and to take actions to soothe and calm themselves before they are overpowered by those emotions is the key to stopping temper tantrums. Learning how to soothe and calm oneself is an essential life skill. Acquiring it can take years of practice. And even though we're still working on it as adults, the lessons begin in childhood, which means that when you have children, you're their teacher.


From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.

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