A great question came up on my Facebook page (if you’re not following me yet, you can start that here). It was essentially this:
How do you recognize the difference between when a child is ‘acting out’ and when a child has lost complete control of his emotions and can’t self regulate their actions, and how do you navigate them in both cases?
Here’s what I had to say:
(Video can also be viewed on YouTube here.)
I hate to use the phrase “it doesn’t matter”. Details always matter to the overanalyzers like myself. But for the most part, it doesn’t matter if your child is having a tantrum because his emotions are on overload or because he’s using the tantrum as an intentional tool. In both cases, there are skills that need to be developed. You want to help him calm down, label and validate emotions, teach improved skills, and monitor to make sure you aren’t reinforcing the tantrum with a payoff.
So here are my tips:
Often that means removing the child from the situation and reducing stimulation. For some children it means more physical proximity — hugging/holding/etc. For others it means giving them space.
Validate and Label Emotions
Even if you think your child is having a tantrum by choice, there are still valid feelings at play. “I know you’re disappointed…..”, “I can tell you’re angry about…”
Teach New Skills
In both situations (intentional/unintentional) , the child is showing that he needs communication skills. Regardless of the motivation or spark, this child needs to learn new tools for healthy expression. Coach him through the process and give him some practice, once he’s in a calm state of mind.
Watch Out for Reinforcements
Find out what the payoff is for the tantrum. Does he get what he wants by using this tool? Then he’s more likely to keep using it! Watch for less obvious payoffs to make certain that communicating effectively becomes his new favorite tool!
Hours after recording, I came across this excerpt from Twin Coach, Gina Osher’s interview of Ross W. Greene PhD for the Mother Co (The full post is a great resource and can be found here: Parenting Children with Explosive Temperaments):
“We all want what we want. Kids who are not behaviorally challenging can get what they want in an adaptive fashion. But not all children have those skills, thus they try to get what they want in maladaptive ways. As a parent, assuming your child is not using their skills on purpose is a losing place to operate from. But if you assume a child doesn’t have the skills to get what they need in an appropriate way, you are never going to go wrong.”
It sums up much more precisely what I was getting at. Whether you think your child is having a tantrum by choice or because he’s lost control, it doesn’t really matter much. In the end he’s not using the right skills – he’s not communicating in a socially acceptable way. Lobbing accusations about his sincerity won’t help much. Giving him the tools he needs will.
Great question! Keep them coming via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through Facebook.
Other good news: My Ecourse, Parenting with Positive Guidance, is open! Learn about what Positive Guidance is and isn’t, and fill your toolbox with the same tools the experts use. (Don’t forget to use the TEAM discount to get the registration for two of you for LESS than the cost of one! ) Get more info here!