The MINDFUL ABC’s of managing tantrums
On a good day, it’s an exhilarating spiritual journey of epic proportions, where we have the privilege of witnessing our most creative project flourish. 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 or self-doubt.
Mindfulness has certainly been a crucial part of my parenting survival tool kit, not only in managing the challenges, but also in helping me remember to be present and appreciate the daily magic amidst the domestic monotony.
As a mother with a gorgeous two year old girl, I’ve found mindfulness particularly helpful for managing tantrums, so here are a few tips on how to deal with tantrums mindfulness using what I call the emotional ABC’s.
When tantrums strike, it’s easy to lose your calm. Your child’s cry is designed to set off your inner emotional alarm bell, to get your immediate attention and avoid potential threats. However, tantrums are a developmentally normal phenomenon that most often only reflect a child’s attempt to assert themselves and develop agency. 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 avoid getting lost in the emotional storm. By actively labelling ‘tantrum’ you’ll be activating the higher regions of your brain that allow you to think more clearly, problem- solve and stay calm rather than panic. Then acknowledge the feelings your child is having and label them. For example, ‘I understand you really want to have a biscuit but we need to eat a healthy dinner first’, followed by, ‘I can see you’re really upset.’ This helps your child learn about their emotional world.
Be open and breathe
Once you’ve recognised and labelled what’s happening, bring your attention to your breath. You may notice that your breath is becoming restricted or fast as your emotions are triggered. Slow your breath down and extend your exhalation. This will quiet your entire nervous system, keeping you calm rather than reactive, and helping you make better decisions about what is needed. Turn to your breath as a way of staying grounded and not losing your cool.
Once you’ve connected with your breath and calmed your own nervous system down, activate your curiosity and ask yourself, ‘What is needed in this moment?’ If you’re in public, it may be picking your child up and leaving the situation. If you’re at home, it might simply be anchoring to your own breathing while the tantrum passes, making an empathetic statement to your child, or diverting their attention with distraction. When we are emotionally triggered into a stress response, we lose our capacity to make wise decisions. Mindfulness helps us regain this wisdom and make better decisions, especially when under pressure.
Don’t be hard on yourself
When dealing with the many challenges of parenting, self-compassion is a powerful antidote to any feelings of inadequacy that can arise. When tantrums happen, it’s easy to get frustrated at your child and at yourself. 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. Practise 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.’
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