A while back I wrote an article about navigating tantrums, which generated quite a few questions.
Question #1: Why would a meltdown by an 18-year-old be a tantrum? Does that mean that people of all ages can have one?
Question #2: Is a tantrum in teenagers just a meltdown by any other name?
Question #3: How do you differentiate tantrums from other sorts of angry or frustrated moments?
Question #4: I assume dealing with a young adult (or adult) tantrum requires different tactics than with younger kids. Any suggestions?
This post and my next one will address them. Let’s begin with my top 3 tips on addressing and working through tantrums (from my original post here https://deborahanndavis.com/taming-the-tantrum/):
- Be thankful for the tantrum!
You heard me. A tantrum signals an inability to cope that needs to be addressed. The alternative to a tantrum is your children internalize their distress and let it fester. You are unaware because there’s no loud flag-waving (unless they express it through headaches, nausea, lethargy, self-isolating, anxiety, etc.). So be thankful they are externally vocalizing their distress and unhappiness.
2. Let them have the tantrum.
I know it’s distressing to witness their misery, but remind yourself that you are on the path for reducing their anguish. However, don’t physically face them. The energy of their distress will negatively impact you if you are receiving it head-on. That will wear you down, and render you ill-equipped to handle the underlying issue. Remaining in the room and sitting with them calmly conveys the message that you are there for them. It also provides you the opportunity to interact with them when they pause to take a breath. You can take advantage of that moment by saying you love them, even when they are upset.
3. Let them tire out.
Just like any fiery explosion you see in the movies, there is a huge combustive beginning, which rages for a bit, and then it dies out because it runs out of fuel. It may astonish you how long your darling children, whether they’re two or twelve, can pitch a fit before they run out of fuel, but rest assured, they will. Waiting them out teaches them that the tantrum is a waste of time and energy on their part. Eventually, they will seek alternatives for getting what they want.”
Why would a meltdown by an 18-year-old be a tantrum? Does that mean that people of all ages can have one?
Meltdowns occur when a person can’t cope. They occur less and less as kids grow into adults because as people mature they learn how to live and cope within the boundaries of their environment.
Can anyone at any age have a meltdown? Absolutely. If the circumstances feel beyond someone’s control, and their emotional state is ramped up enough, anyone can find themselves overwhelmed. For example, you see meltdowns in the elderly as they lose the ability to control their own lives.
Is a tantrum in teenagers just a meltdown by any other name?
A meltdown represents a complete loss of control and reason due to being emotionally overwhelmed by a problem or situation. I see tantrums that way, especially in young people. If they had another, more pleasant way to cope, they would choose the better option.
Here are two primary reasons why teenagers throw tantrums:
- They are purposefully manipulating you and/or the situation.
- They erupt because they are at the end of their rope and can’t cope.
In older children it’s not so clear-cut. Some teens have figured out that a well-timed hissy fit will get them their way. That’s a manipulation, not a lack of options. In your heart of hearts, you know the difference with your kids.
Here’s how to deal with each type:
The Manipulator: If you’ve been living with a teenage manipulator, over time your dynamic has shifted the power from you to your child. Somehow tantrums historically have produced what your teenagers want, so it’s well worth their effort. If your darling diva has figured out you give in after 25 minutes of listening to her rant, you’ve trained her to throw a tantrum that lasts for 25 minutes. If you can last longer, so do her tantrums… as long as they provide the desired outcome.
The solution? Don’t give in.
I know. It’s not easy, but next post I’ll cover strategies for holding your ground.
The Eruptor: Sometimes when your kids can’t obtain a desired outcome, it can be an extremely difficult situation for them to face. Something important to them hangs in the balance, and they can’t figure out how to achieve it. Anxiety intensifies into the edge of panic, and suddenly you have a full-blown tantrum on your hands. This is common for any child who doesn’t know how to self-soothe, and also for children with disabilities who have difficulty communicating their desires.
The solution? Mirror back their emotions by telling them what you see. (“This situation has gotten you so upset. You feel like crying/shouting/stomping. I understand. I feel that way sometimes when something upsets me, but I recover. I’m sorry you’re going through this. I love you and I’m here for you.”) Once they calm down, hit them with oodles of reassurance. They need to know they are going to be alright. (“I got this. If I can’t solve your problem, I will find someone who can. Don’t worry. You’re safe, and I love you.”)
Whether you are experiencing tantrums, or want to prepare for their arrival, having some strategies in your tool belt will keep you calmer and less reactionary. Remember these two important concepts:
- A tantrum is not something your child is doing to you. A tantrum is something happening to your child, and he/she needs rescuing by you.
- Don’t qualify the negative feelings their tantrum stirs up in you. Your feelings are your feelings – period. They’re not good or bad. They just are. It’s what you do with those feelings that matters. You don’t have to react in kind. Instead, you can choose how you want to respond.
Be sure to check back here next week for the answers to the last two questions. Feel free to send in your own questions to info@DeborahAnnDavis.com.
For more info on handling tantrums, see the post Taming the Tantrum and get my books, “How To Keep Your Daughter From Slamming the Door” and “How To Get Your Happy On.”