The stress of quarantine can and will get to all of us, no matter our age, occupation, or situation. This is new water that none of us have ever sailed. As hard as our days may be, they are just as hard on our children. The world their little minds and hearts knew and loved was stripped from them so quickly. It’s a lot to understand when the world is normally filled with so much wonder and excitement.
But now, with limited outlets for expression and minimal avenues for mental and emotional well-being, the always-dreaded, yet usually unavoidable tantrum can seem like a regular occurrence these days. So, if they are bound to happen, rather than trying to avoid them completely, or suffer your own as you multi-task and manage simultaneous Zoom meetings and homeschool tasks while the dog is also barking outside, why not let them happen and embrace them instead?
Here’s what I suggest:
1. Take 10 Steps
When you sense a tantrum on the verge of existence, encourage your child to take ten steps. For the first few times, join them in taking these steps. Sometimes take big elephant steps, other times take quiet ballerina steps or even little birdie steps. Encourage them to count with you as you take the steps. Not only are you activating their imagination and practicing their counting skills, but you are also redirecting their tantrum and keeping it a bay.
2. Say a Rhyme
Who doesn’t love a good one? Not only will it encourage language development, but it will also tame the tantrum because now their mind is focused on something entirely different that requires them to process information. Try to encourage the rhyming of words relevant to actions. For example: Let’s touch our heads. Now let’s find something red. Where’s your nose? Now can you touch your toes?
3. Bust a Move
Dancers love a good eight-count. As do children in distress. Life is about dancing through the rain, right? Movement is essential and beneficial for a variety of reasons—physical, mental, emotional—so why not share that with your youngster? And if there’s no music, make it up! Or better yet, allow them to dance to the beat in their own minds—the power of imagination is endless.
4. Listen to Music
Somewhat in tandem with number eight. If you don’t have a beat in your head and can’t seem to make one, turn on some of your favorite tunes instead. Music can do so much for the mind and soul. Simply listen, sing along, sway, dance, close your eyes. Let them do what they want to and need to as they listen to the music.
5. Have a Snack
There’s not much a favorite treat can’t fix. And no, I’m not suggesting we overindulge or resort to food every time there is a problem. But think about your own life. Do you pour an extra cup of coffee when mornings are rough? Or what about that bite-size chocolate candy for an afternoon pick-me-up? Yes! So help calm their fears and intense emotions with a bite-size indulgence of their favorite treat.
6. Redirect Their Focus
Just think shiny gold rings. You know that famous holiday song many of us know? We often forget most of the other lines but we never forget, “5 golden rings!” (Yes, I hope you just sang that!) That’s because they are shiny, sparkly, and gold! In the eyes of children, things that are shiny, sparkly, and gold are prone to attention—that is the art of redirection. Take their mind off the intense emotions and redirect them with something else in the room. Direct them to look at something and ask them a particular question about it. Remember, at that moment, they can’t conceptualize why they are feeling the way they are. So, redirect to something unrelated until they are calm, then process after.
7. Drop To the Floor
Literally. Get yourself on their level. Show them they aren’t alone. Live in the moment, or rather the tantrum, with them. They need to know it’s OK to feel. Of course, you can talk about what initiated the tantrum later and potentially correct any misbehaviors that may have caused it, but in the moment, their minds and bodies are scared, overwhelmed, and unsure. Be their source of comfort and assurance. Be their safety net.
8. Say Three Little Words
Think about all the language a young child encounters in one day. Even in one hour. Now think about all that is happening in their minds during a tantrum. Oy vey! The power of language is tenfold. They only need a few words at a time. Try repeating a few favorite, three-word phrases to help reestablish the calm: I love you. You are OK. It is OK. You are brave. You are smart. You are strong.
9. Remember Their Age
Terrible twos and tricky threes. Your child is two or three (maybe even four or five). Tantrums are a part of this stage of life. Children are just learning all about emotions, how to feel them, process them, express them. So, let them. Embrace the high-pitched screaming and the endless sobbing. Listen to the echoes of their little feet stomping and fists pounding. Take a deep breath in. Now let it out. Count down, three, two, one . . .
10. And just like that, the tantrum is over!
Remember, these days can seem extra long. What you are doing is enough. Someday when they are older, you will be able to tell them about these moments and smile along with them. And in the end, if all else fails, know that the tantrum will, in fact, end.
Previously published on Nanny Magazine