When our kids melt down or have tantrums, we tend to, well, freak out ourselves. Angry thoughts pop into our head, our heart starts to race, and our palms get sweaty. As a result, we tend to react in these situations, rather than respond purposefully – and we unintentionally make things worse by adding fuel to the fire.
So, what should a parent do when their child is exploding?
Be the bomb squad.
What?! Let me explain.
In his book, The Angry Child, Tim Murphy suggests that when a child is exploding, a parent has only two things they should be focusing on:
- Diffuse the bomb.
- Minimize damage.
This means our role in these heated moments is to calm the situation down and try to reduce the harm, to our child and anyone else involved.
That’s it – no yelling, lecturing, threatening, bargaining. Nope. When kids are having a tantrum, they are operating from their irrational brain and they literally can’t hear us. That is why attempts to reason with them don’t work in these moments; they are too wrapped up in their own escalated thoughts and emotions and aren’t able to get themselves out.
The best thing we can do is approach the situation intentionally and rationally so we don’t set it off more.
Therefore, the first thing we need to do is calm ourselves down so that we can then help our child. Anything else we try will just make the situation worse.
I know – not an easy feat when your child is screaming, in the middle of the store, with the crowds around them getting larger — and you’re late to an appointment and you need to pee!
But, with practice, it’s possible. Here are three tips for becoming a pro member of the Parenting Bomb Squad:
- Change your thoughts. Instead of thinking, “My child is out to get me,” we need to instead think, “Something is wrong.” Acknowledging that our child has lost it, that they are struggling, that they need our help allows us see our child’s meltdown through a more compassionate lens. As a result, we feel calmer and are in a better place to help our child rather than escalate the situation.
- Practice self-regulation. Deep breathing, positive self-talk, stepping away – we need to use any tools that can help us calm down our nervous system. Remember, we must put on our own oxygen mask first.
- Help your child. Unfortunately, a child’s pre-frontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25 so they need us to take the lead in helping them calm down. Various tools such as validation, “time-in’s,” or even reminding our kids of a (previously agreed to) calm-down tool can all help guide and teach them how to get back to baseline.
After the bomb has been diffused, the area cleaned up, repairs made – it is only then that we can begin to problem-solve and address why the bomb went off in the first place, how to prevent future explosions, and which tools could manage the situation better in the future.
Who knew the bomb squad could teach us a thing or two about parenting?