Maria Montessori noted that changes in a child's behaviour can be caused by an alteration to the child’s surroundings, routines and developmental growth. Acknowledging a child’s internal imbalance as our starting point, allows us to step away from the language of ‘toddler tantrums’ and towards approaches of connection and support. During these times, parents perform a dual role: to hold a safe place of trust for their child and co-regulate emotions through role modeling effective emotional display. Children also physically learn emotional regulation through the gradual development of their prefrontal cortex.
But big emotions can take their toll on all of us, so here are some tips to help you through.
Know the warning signs:
Even when we try to do everything correct, things can slide. Triggers affecting a child’s behavior most commonly include hunger, fatigue, language frustration, seeking connection or independence, over-scheduling, new sibling, house move, travel or even when leaving a playdate or the park. If you sense some of these triggers, tackle them individually, e.g. if you know your child is tired, postpone the playdate for another day.
Riding the storm together:
Sometimes a child becomes fully overcome with a build-up of emotion resulting in frustration, anger, loud voices, pushing, hitting or breaking. This can be distressing for all and it’s difficult to stay composed especially when you may be triggered yourself.
Remember to not take it personally. Communicate with you child at their level by acknowledging their feelings, or even remaining silent and offering comfort through a cuddle or sitting close by, offer safe choices for ownership and cooperation and stick to your word through the good times and beyond.
For example, ‘I can see that you are really angry that it’s our time to leave the park. I cannot allow you to hold onto the swing. I am going to carry you and we can find a bench together to rest on.”
When big emotions occur in public places, you must decide to stay or go home. If you find it uncomfortable being watched or fear judgement, it may be better to head home. If you stay and follow through, be assured others will probably be in awe of your calm parenting.
Moving forward and no looking back:
As emotions subside into tears, seeking comfort and often a breath of release and composure, we can begin again. Children can return to their happy selves quite quickly. We offer our help if something requires cleaning, repairing, or an apology needs be made and after we do not refer back to the matter.
We know with big emotions and challenging behaviors that we will have future opportunities to use our skills again resulting in more successful limit setting, mutual trust, strong bonds and ultimately resilient and secure children.