I've tried very hard throughout my son's life to approach situations with empathy and understanding. The world can be a confusing place for children, with all this hustle and bustle and seemingly little logic surrounding the decisions that affect them. I've been pretty stern when it comes to outbursts, but have been surprised to discover that the best way to stop a tantrum in our home is with five simple words.
“I understand. You're feeling ________.”
It started when he was about two, the time when kids start haphazardly bursting with all sorts of emotions.
It’s not always the most elegant phase. As any adult who's been through therapy knows, the quickest way to deal with emotions is to express them openly and honestly. At least that's what my psychiatrist says. But he may be brainwashing me. Who knows?
How Understanding Feelings can Stop a Tantrum
You can't really process emotions if you don't have words to express them, so we started watching The Feelings Show to help my son understand his emotions. I met Ruby, star of the show, at a parent blog conference a few years back and I was immediately drawn to her upbeat personality. She gave me her DVD, which sat on a shelf for awhile until my curious toddler unleashed it from its plastic wrap.
It has been such an amazing blessing for our family. Something about those puppets, self-expressive art, animations and real kids explaining their thoughts in their own words…it spoke to my son. We went from discussing colors and shapes and what he wanted for lunch to real-world issues. Suddenly, I could stop a tantrum in moments by simply reassuring him that I understood what he was going through. “I understand. You're feeling _____.” Mad, sad, frustrated. He understood the full spectrum of toddler feelings.
Beyond that, even, he started spontaneously telling me how he felt about things. “No, mama,” he’d shake his head when I’d spend too much time on the phone or when I’d put his toys out of reach. “It make me sad.”
He came to understand that his feelings didn’t necessarily rule a situation, but that expressing them could help us come to an understanding of each other and find a jumping-off point.
To me, that’s the real key to help stop a tantrum: assuring your child that they are heard, even if their demands won’t be met.
Turning a disaster into a discussion.