Is your child in a tantrum throwing stage? Have you been trying to figure out how you are going to stop these tantrums without going crazy? As a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner I have learned that many parents will come to you exasperated and ask “how can I stop the tantrums?!” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents “ignore them”. Mmmokay, doc, got it! Now back to reality. How am I supposed to ignore the child who is screaming and throwing his body on the floor of Target because I won’t buy them the new (insert toy) now? Sure I can ignore my son as he makes a spectacle of himself and everyone stares at us. Or I can come up with a different plan to tackle this tantrum.
I quickly realized that flat-out ignoring wasn’t going to work in my household. Instead, I thought about what was triggering the behavior and how I could help my child change the response. I thought about how I am able to maintain my own self-control, or gain control when I feel like I’m losing it. I believe parenting is about teaching children how to navigate life – which includes expressing and controlling their emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Therefore, I concluded that I needed to model self-control, in order to teach it. In doing this, I would be guiding my child to a calm state as they were feeling at a loss of control. This loss of control is what has led to the tantrum.
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There are various different methods out there to help parents learn to, well “parent”. Nowadays we look to our pediatric healthcare providers, the internet, and books for advice. Some parents will turn to other parents to ask for advice, which more often than not ends in “have you read this book?” or “I’ll send you a link to a website”.
Back in the day, when it was more of a simple life, we had our local village. The elder women would work hand in hand with the younger women as they became mothers. They would guide them along the way. Today, in a sense, the internet has become our village. On the internet, you’ll find a multitude of tips, tricks, and guidelines to raise your children. Through internet searches, I found names like Dr. Sears, Dr. Karp, and Elizabeth Pantley. After learning about conscious discipline from a fellow Montessori parent, I was curious. I turned to the internet to research more about it.
I did not hear about conscious discipline until I had already been through the infant and toddler stages with A. But once I learned about conscious discipline I embraced it. Conscious Discipline put a name to what I was already practicing as a parent. I had based my parenting on everything I knew as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner about brain development, human growth, and my own personal experience as a parent. Considering how well Conscious Discipline seemed to align with my personal beliefs and parenting practices I had to learn more.
Have you heard of Conscious Discipline? It is one of the models that can be used to help caregivers help their children. Conscious Discipline is a brain-based approach that was developed by Dr. Becky Bailey. The idea is to develop skills to help ourselves manage emotions, actions, and thoughts. Once we have these skills we can use them and in turn help our children learn these skills.
The 3 Brain States
Conscious Discipline concludes that the state your brain is in drives your behavior. In this brain-based approach, there are three parts to the brain state model: the survival state, the emotional state, and the executive state.
The Survival State
When we (or our children) are in the survival state we are in that “fight or flight” state of mind. We are put into this state of mind when we are feeling threatened by something. If we are in this state we are not feeling safe. Parents may find themselves in this stage when their child is midst temper tantrum. Whereas children fall into this state when their basic needs are not being met. When children are hungry, tired, or thirsty they are more likely to “meltdown”. The way out of this state can change from person to person but the goal is to let the person know they are safe. If you find your child in this state, the first step would be to evaluate if you think they may be hungry, tired, thirsty, or have another basic life need that is not being met. Once you have established that those needs are being met, you know need to help them feel safe.
The Emotional State
The emotional state is a time where we (or our children) are not feeling loved. Some children enter this state when they are not getting the attention (or item) they desire. Touch followed by deep breathing can be used to help someone out of this stage. Others resist touch at this stage. Some people are helped out of this stage through eye contact with another. We need to learn what helps us out of this stage, as we cannot help our children while in this stage. It is also important to learn what helps our children out of this stage.
The Executive State
The executive state is the state our minds are in when we are thinking rationally. We are feeling safe and loved. In this state, we are happy, engaging, and enjoying the moment. We strive to remain in the executive state and help our children get to the executive state when they are not in it. Children need to be in this state to engage in learning and to problem solve.
Why Brain State’s Matter
According to Conscious Discipline, the state that our child’s brain is in will affect how they respond to a situation. The state our brain is in also affects us. As parents, we want to maintain the executive state and catch ourselves when we are not in it. The executive state is the best state to be in for problem-solving and learning. You are calm, cool, and collected in the executive state. You are not feeling threatened, scared, or out-of-control. When I feel myself slip to a place that I’m not in that state I will close my eyes and take 3 deep breaths — and for the sake of full disclosure – I also talk to myself too “keep control B”. So step one is keeping control of yourself; that will help you get your children up to the executive state as well. You cannot get your child to the calm, cool, and collected state if you yourself are not there.
The Temper Tantrum State
So what state is my tantrum throwing child in? Because let’s be real, when you’re throwing yourself on the floor of Target and screaming at the top of your lungs, you are not in the executive state. Likely they are in the emotional state. Though they may be in the survival state and be needing a snack, drink, or nap. No matter which state they are in, they need you to help get them to the executive state. Wait a minute, that goes against what the AAP has been saying, they said to ignore the tantrum! By ignoring the tantrum you are not arming your child with the life skills they need to get themselves out of the tantrum. Your child needs you to let them know that:
- They are in a safe place (there with you)
- They are loved (by you)
- You are there and they can trust you to help them get them back to that nice executive state.
Steps to Stop the Tantrum
So remember how you got yourself in the executive state when you really wanted to disappear (or scream) from the situation? Now you can use those same steps to help your tantrum throwing child.
Get down to their level, or pick them up, and look them in the face. First, they need to know they are safe. Once you two have established that they are safe, you need to connect with them. Not logically, because saying things like “use your words”, “why are you crying”, and “stop right now” are not likely to be met with the response we want. Think more about how you can connect with them on their emotional level. Try using phrases like “I see that you’re upset”, “You’re feeling angry”, or “you are frustrated”. These phrases will help you connect with them on the emotional level.
Once you are connected and have their attention it’s time to help them get through three deep breaths. Keep your voice nice and even toned. Don’t ask them to calm down but tell them using an assertive, but non-aggressive, voice. Maintaining eye contact will help as well.
Once they are working on controlled breathing it’s time to guide them into the calm world. As you guide them to a calm state encourage them as they regain their composure. “There you go. Look at your breathing”. Once they have calmed down provide them a choice (that you can live with and isn’t giving in to their demand/request) so that you can continue your shopping.
We’ll talk more about conscious discipline, along with other gentle parenting methods.
Later we will go more in-depth with how we can help our children learn self-discipline. If you’ve tried the above tip, leave me a comment and let me know how it went. If you have a particular problem you need help with reach out to me and let’s see how we can get you and your family through it.
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Till next time…