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How to Mindfully Manage a Tantrum

By Dr Elise Bialylew
Founder of Mindful in May

Motherhood is an exhilarating spiritual journey of epic proportions where each day we are faced with the privilege of witnessing our most creative project flourish.

That’s on a good day.

On a bad day it’s an exhausting, frustrating ride where we are tested beyond our limits through sleep deprivation, tantrums, mastitis, stress, relationship tension, and self doubt.

Mindfulness has been a crucial part of my motherhood survival tool kit, not only in managing the challenges but also in helping me be present enough to appreciate the daily magic.

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Mindfulness is a training which gives us more capacity for self awareness so that we can be present to what’s happening from moment to moment in our lives with more clarity, and respond with greater wisdom.

As a mother with a young child, I’ve found mindfulness a particularly helpful tool for managing tantrums with greater ease.

 

Here’s a few tips on how to mindfully manage a tantrum:

1. Recognise

When tantrums strike, it’s easy to get triggered and lose your calm. Your child’s cry is designed to set off your inner emotional alarm to get your immediate attention and help protect them from potential danger. However, tantrums are a developmentally normal phenomenon and most often reflect a child’s attempt to assert themselves and develop greater agency in the world rather than signalling threat. To help ground yourself and move from stressed to calm when your child is having a tantrum, first consciously recognise what’s happening and silently label it,“tantrum”. This is the first step to managing a tantrum and not getting lost in the emotional storm. By actively labelling “tantrum” you’ll be activating the higher regions of your brain which allow you to think more clearly, problem solve and stay calm rather than be panicked.

2. Breath

Once you’ve recognised and labelled what’s happening, bring your attention to your breath. You may notice the breath has become restricted or fast as your emotions get triggered. Slow your breath down and extend out the exhalation which will calm down your entire nervous system. This will keep you calm rather than reactive and help you make better decisions about what is needed. Turn to your breath as a way of staying grounded and not losing your cool.

3. Decide

Once you’ve connected with your breath and calmed your own nervous system down, ask yourself “what is needed in this moment”. If you’re in public it may be picking your child up and leaving the situation, or if you’re at home it might simply be anchoring to your own breathing while the tantrum passes, making an empathic statement to your child, or distracting them so that you divert their attention. When we get emotionally triggered into the stress response we lose our capacity to make wise decisions. Mindfulness helps us regain this wisdom and make better decisions especially when under pressure.

4. Be compassionate

A fundamental aspect of practising mindfulness is to meet your moment to moment experience with kindness and compassion. When dealing with the many challenges that come with motherhood, self compassion is a powerful antidote to any feelings of inadequacy that can arise. It’s easy to get frustrated at your child and at yourself when tantrums happen. So, when the tantrum has passed, take a moment to remind yourself that this a very normal part of a child’s development. Think of all the other parents who may be dealing with a tantrum in this very moment, and connect to this sense of shared humanity. You’re not in this alone. Practice active self compassion by putting your hand on your heart and offering yourself some phrases of warmth, love and reassurance. Silently wish yourself well by repeating “I’m doing the best I can, I’m bringing as much love as I can to my child and it’s hard sometimes, but I’m doing the best I can”.

 

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