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

Teaching children how to soothe and calm themselves begins with us. We have to be the first to monitor the emotions, to recognize the frustration, disappointment, fear, or sadness before it escalates to fury. It's our job, while the emotions are easier to manage, to step in and teach our kids suitable responses. And as we do it, we can choose word and actions that either soothe and diffuse the emotions, like the cotton balls, making it easier for our child to manage them, or we can add our intensity to theirs and say or do things that fuel those emotions. The choice is ours.

Monitoring Emotions

If you watch and listen carefully, your child is constantly demonstrating his emotions. Think about the last few days. What did your child do or say that you now realize indicated his intensity was rising?

Whether it's a whine, an inability to shift from one thing to another, a refusal to listen or come to dinner, tears that spring up over seemingly insignificant issues, forgotten homework, fights with siblings, or the slamming of doors, think about the behaviors you've seen or heard your child express before the full volcano erupted.

Imprint the cues in your brain; train yourself to recognize them so that the next time your child starts to whine, you will understand that your child is experiencing a strong emotion. There's a feeling or need he doesn't know how to express. Rather than saying, "I'm not going to listen to you anymore," step into that emotion with words and activities that teach her how to soothe and calm herself.

Initially, as you learn to recognize the cues, you may wonder if your child is manipulating you, especially if she throws up or complains of a stomachache. There's a wonderful book called Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, a Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases and Coping by Robert Sapolsky. In it, the author explains that when your body is on alert, ready for fight or flight, it "empties" out so that you can run faster! He encourages us to watch a National Geographic film to see what the zebras do when the lions start to chase them. They let loose, emptying their bodies so that they can flee faster. Your child's "gut" reaction is to empty his system when an emotional hijacking occurs. This isn't manipulation, it's Mother Nature giving him the energy to cope.


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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