Tantrums push our buttons, no doubt about it. However, if you reframe your perspective on what’s actually happening, you can keep your own emotions from joining the door-slamming party.
Question #1 Last post: 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 Last post: 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?
Today I’m addressing Question #3 & #4.
How do you differentiate tantrums from other sorts of angry or frustrated moments?
Imagine a continuum of angry emotions. Frustration and anger live at one end, and at the other end you find full-blown, earth-shaking tantrums. On any given day, at any given moment, the world around you can suddenly slam you into that continuum, ruining your day and interfering with your life… if you let it. We all have negative reactions when those situations arise, but you can choose how you respond to it.
Choice is your underused superpower. Choose how you want to respond to negative situations ahead of time, instead of reacting when they arise. You don’t want your emotions jerked around like a marionette on a string.
The better we understand the people and circumstances around us, the more equipped we become to minimize their negative impact. In the process, we learn even more about ourselves.
Those who learn quickly appear more even-keeled to the world. Everyone else, including your children, react with anger, frustration, or tantrums. They haven’t yet learned how to choose to not react in kind.
Whether it’s tantrums, frustration or anger, approach it in the same manner. Mirror back their emotions by telling them what you see. (“I see your head hanging down like this and your eyebrows are scrunched up. It looks like you’re feeling upset. I understand. I feel that way sometimes when something disappoints me, but I recover. I’m sorry you’re going through this. I love you and I’m here for you.”)
I assume dealing with a young adult (or adult) tantrum requires different tactics than with younger kids. Any suggestions?
In general, tantrums are born from fear, fear of failure, fear of being mocked, fear of not fitting in, fear of being exposed as an imposter, etc. Before you can deal with the underlying issue, you have to calm down the emotional level. The best way to do that is to start early.
Find a calm, neutral time when you can sit down and converse. Tell your walking volcano, “When you come to me with a problem and you blow up, I get so distracted by your anger, I can’t really hear your message. I love you too much to leave things the way they are. From now on, when you get that upset, I’m going to step away for a moment, and when you feel better, we can discuss your situation. I love you enough to wait through your anger. When you have a problem, I want to help you, and if I don’t know how, I will find someone who does.”
When faced with the next volatile interaction, remind your child that you said you were going to step away. Say something like, “I’m too distracted by your anger to focus on your words. I love you so much, so I’m stepping away so this conversation can reset. We’ll handle whatever it is when you feel better. I’ll be waiting.”
Now that you have a general strategy, let’s be more specific.
Dealing With the Young Adult Manipulator:
This youngster has learned that in order to triumph, throwing a tantrum works every time. Nevertheless, underlying it all is the fear of failing to get his/her way.
Step 1: Pick a calm time to talk to your teen. Explain that you love them too much to let things continue the way they are. Tell them that when they are upset, you can’t hear the message because the voice, gestures and body language are too distracting. And, unfortunately, if you can’t hear the message, you can’t help solve the problem.
Step 2: Instead, you are going to try something new. From now on, when they are too upset to have a conversation, you are going to wait until they are back in control of their emotions, and then resume talking. Try to tell your kids this ahead of time. Otherwise, unexpected changes in your behavior may be interpreted as you rejecting them.
Step 3: The next time she starts to escalate the conversation, remind her of your new policy. Ask whether she’s able take back control of her emotions, or should you wait until she can. If she calms down, continue the discussion. If she blows up, tell her you’re willing to wait because you love her, and want to work this out with a clear head.
Step 4: If your teen heads down a negative path, it’s time to step away, but do it with love! He needs your love no matter what, so don’t step away as a punishment. That’s emotional blackmail. Your teens need to know your love for them is unconditional… no matter what.
Step 5: Firmly tell your teen that you are going into the other room so he can collect himself. Tell him you love him, and you will be waiting so the two of you can attack the problem together when he feels better.
Step 6: When your teen reappears, drop what you are doing, and sit with her. You’ll be showing your child that the tantrum was not worth the effort, and reinforcing that gathering her emotions, and approaching you calmly may get better results.
Dealing With the Young Adult Eruptor:
This youngster is a victim of emotions, and flat out needs to be rescued by you. Feelings are out of control and need to be reined in.
1. Pick a calm time to talk together. Explain that you love them too much to let things continue the way they are. Tell him when he’s that upset, you can’t sort out the problem because his behavior is too distracting. You need to understand what the problem is, so you can help them solve it.
The Eruptor needs reassurance that you will hang in there until the problem is handled. If you discuss this ahead of time, the change will still be unexpected, but you can remind your teen that this was your plan to help.
2. The next time she erupts, remind her that you love her, and you are there for her. If you don’t have a solution, you will find someone who does. You got her back.
Ask your teen if she can explain what the problem is now, or if you should come back when she feels better. If she calms down, start the discussion without judgment (It doesn’t matter if you think the issue is important or not. It’s her opinion, and she’s entitled to it). If she blows up, tell your teen you are willing to wait because you love her, and together you can fix whatever it is, as soon as she is ready to deal with it.
3. If you have to step away, remember…do it with love! Tell your teen you’ll be back in a little bit to check on him. He needs to know he’s not being abandoned. It’s important your teen understands your love is unconditional, even when he erupts.
4. If your teen doesn’t reappear in a few, pop your head in and ask how she’s doing. You’ll be teaching your teen that a tantrum slows down problem-solving, and controlling her emotions will get faster results.
Everything takes time, but the good news is that every time you choose to respond in a way to steer the situation, you will:
- build consistency
- lay down new neuro pathways in your brain
- lay down new neuro pathways in your child’s brain
- model the behavior you’d like your child to master
- make it easier for your child to cope in a future situation
- see a decrease in tantrum intensity
- diffuse the tantrum more quickly each time
- create a sense of empowerment in yourself
- reduce the fear in your child
Remember to take care of you first. You are the strongest link in the parent-child relationship, so it’s important to keep yourself vibrant and healthy.
For more info on handling tantrums, see the Taming the Holiday Tantrum – Part 1 and get my books, “How To Keep Your Daughter From Slamming the Door” and “How To Get Your Happy On.”