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

Does Your Child Need to Escalate to Be Heard?

Most of us have not been taught how to monitor our feelings or those of others. As a result, it's very easy to miss them until they are blasting you in the face.

That's what happened to Bridget. Her voice was frantic when I answered my phone. "My son destroyed his room last night. I need help!" she cried. I listened, letting the intensity of her emotions diminish. I then asked her to tell me what happened before her son dumped his drawers and emptied his closet.

"It started right after school," she explained. "He came storming in off the bus. Within seconds of his arrival he complained about the snack I had prepared, shoved his sister, and even yelled at the dog. When I asked him what was wrong, he started to cry and said the older boys had bullied him on the playground. We talked about it for a while and he seemed to be better, but then I needed to prepare supper. I told him to get his homework started. He complained that he couldn't do it and demanded that I help him. I couldn't, I had dinner to make for the kids and my husband was out of town that night. After dinner I tried to get him to practice his violin, but again he refused and wanted me to be with him. I've got other kids and things to do, I can't just be there with him. Anyway, he's the oldest. He finally got through the practice and came to me where I was working in the kitchen. 'Can I sleep with my brother?' he asked. I knew if I let him they'd probably start fighting, so I said no. Then he wanted to call his dad, but our phone bill was so high last month, I told him he'd be home tomorrow and he'd just have to wait. Finally he wanted to sleep in my room. Again I said no. That when he went to his room and tore it up." She paused, sucked in breath, and then in almost a whisper said, "He tried, didn't he?"

Sometimes life's demands make catching the emotions when they're manageable very challenging.

Research shows that when an infant begins to cry, the cries evoke empathy in most adults; but if the cries are unheeded, they become angry and harsh, which results in an angry response.

Think about your child. If she tells you she's sad, do you hear her, or does she need to wail? If she's tired, do her droopy eyelids or lack of energy catch your attention, or does she have to fall into a heap on the floor before you respond? Can your son let you know he needs space by backing away slightly, or does he need to run around the room or out the door for you to get it? When your child demands your help, do you recognize his need to be nurtured? Do you notice your child biting her nails when she's anxious, or does she have to scream, "You can't make me go!" before you realize she's scared?

The more you know about your child's day and life, the easier it is to pick up the more subtle cues. If your child is in child care or school during the day, try to talk with the teacher or your child to find out what's happened during the day. Be observant: note his body language, tone of voice, his eyes. All of these things tell you a lot. Most important make sure your child doesn't have to escalate in order to be heard. If your child is consistently melting down into a tantrum, it may be that you're stepping in too late. Try to catch that shift in the shoulders, the tone in the cry or voice, the need for attention, while the emotion is less intense.

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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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