Tears and tantrumsPublished Date: 13 Jul 2023
It’s 7.43am. I’ve been up since 5.20am. I’ve cajoled two children into getting dressed, clean and downstairs for breakfast. Somehow, I managed to get myself marginally presentable in the meantime, whilst stopping every three minutes to pick up the clingy toddler and hurry the five year old along. “No, you can’t wear your Moana costume to school! Jack climb down from the toilet!”
After packing bags and making lunches and answering 20 questions, I’m finally about to take a bite of toast when suddenly beside me the world has ended. Eighteen-month-old Jack has appeared mid meltdown, distraught because he can’t open a door/put Mr Tumble on/have something of his sisters. I stop to console him and wrap him up in a cuddle. I’m used to a cold breakfast!
I’m sure every parent has been there. As the parents of two tiny people who need us a lot right now, we’re in the thick of it. Whilst we absolutely count our lucky stars to be parents to these beautiful babies, some days we have to take a very deep breath, or 20. Chocolate helps!
Now, I’m the first to follow all the parenting blogs and accounts, but when it comes to tantrums and meltdowns, there's so much advice out there it’s a blur. There's no ‘one size fits all’ because every child is unique and everyone parents differently. I can only share my own experiences.
Luckily our daughter, Isabelle, at the age of five is mostly pretty level-headed. But at two and a half, she went through that typical tantrum stage, and it hit us like a brick. What had happened to our fun-loving little girl? She was on the floor kicking and screaming, and we found it incredibly upsetting to witness. Added to the mix, she would throw her cochlear implants off and refuse to look at us to make communication impossible. A trick she still employs today if she doesn’t like the answer we give her!
Similarly, our son has just entered this stage and will immediately flick his hearing aids off whilst looking us dead in the eye as if to say, “What are you going to do about this?” Whilst this is incredibly frustrating, we try not to spotlight this behaviour. We have to recognise that hearing is their choice in that moment. It reduces the sensory overload and gives them a sense of control. We just wait it out.
The neuroscience of tantrums explains that meltdowns occur because children’s brains are still developing and they don’t yet have the tools to cope when they experience these big emotions. They don’t need the label of ‘naughty’. So I’ve learnt that’s where we step in. In their temporary world of turmoil, we’re their calm (even though we may not feel that way inside).
I try to keep a soothing tone, stay close by and judge whether they want physical touch. Isabelle generally didn’t, she just wanted us near. It was a waiting game, and she just needed us as a safety net until she was ready to engage. I might pretend to tidy nearby whilst narrating my support. “I can see you’re feeling sad, Mummy is here if you need me.” If she had no ‘ears’ in, I could only ensure I was in her eye-line until she gave eye contact to sign/lip-read. In contrast, my son needs immediate contact and reassurance.
With that in mind, my top five tips would be as follows:
- Find out your child’s triggers (you could avoid a meltdown) and what they need from you during a tantrum.
- Keep them safe first and foremost. Jack has been known to hit his head in frustration, and we may have to move him to a place of safety or use ourselves as a barrier to stop him getting hurt.
- Stay with them where possible rather than sending them away to have big feelings alone. We’re their safe space to share the load. Our Mummy and Daddy superpower!
- Take a moment for yourself if you’re finding it overwhelming. Breathe deep and remind yourself this won’t be forever, they’re only little for such a short while.
- Chat to other parents. Everything feels so much better when you realise you’re not the only ones going through the tears and tantrums, and that’s sometimes just the adults!
When it’s one of those days, I remind myself that one day we won’t be the centre of their world. They’ll be hanging out with friends, making their own way and refusing to come and watch Britain’s Got Talent with their uncool parents! So for now we’ll take the lack of personal space, deal with the meltdowns one at a time, give out all the cuddles and remind ourselves how lucky we really are.