3 Questions I Ask During My Child’s Tantrum

Tantrums are an inevitable part of toddlerdom. Americans call it the ‘Terrible Twos’ or the ‘Terrible Threes’ if you’re really unlucky, but the Danish call it The Boundary Stage“. The Danish have their own way of parenting and living slowly in general. I haven’t read it all the way through yet but it’s on my summer reading list: The Danish Way.

There’s no secret that my second child is my tantrum queen. She’ll meltdown over a drop of milk on the table or a sock that doesn’t fit just right. But I’ve noticed, that sometimes, the severity of the tantrum differs based on circumstances outside of her current predicament.

Some questions I ask myself when our little’s are having a meltdown:

What kind of tantrum am I dealing with right now?

It’s important to recognize the type of tantrum. There’s a significant difference between the kicking, screaming, throwing type of tantrum and the huffing and puffing because things are just not working out well. I see 3 different type of tantrums any given day:

  1. Defiance tantrum: this is basically what the Danish call, ‘The Boundary Stage’. She is pushing a boundary to see how far she can get. It’s really important I set strong boundaries for these type of tantrums and never give in for that kind of behavior…all without yelling. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! (For instance, the time I waited 15 minutes for my 3-year-old to get off the floor in the Lowe’s exit because I couldn’t carry her baby doll. The looks of passersby were Instagram-worthy).
  2. Frustration tantrum: Thoughts of my 3-year-old, Charlotte, “This baby doll won’t sit perfectly in this stroller, so I’ll throw the whole darn thing across a room.”  It’s important I recognize her frustration and help her work through it. Easier said than done, but It. Must. Be. Done. Life is frustrating, adulting especially, but we have ways of working it out and I need to teach my kids appropriate ways of working through their frustrations too because throwing her desk across the room probably won’t go over well in the corporate world.
  3. Life is Over Tantrum: This tantrum is completely illogical, and sometimes violent, it stems from something much deeper than the current problem. I need to ask myself follow-up questions if we get to this point in a tantrum! See below…

What happened today or yesterday?

My kids are pretty predictable. I know they can’t handle a 6 a.m – 6 p.m., full day, packed with activities, no matter how much fun they have. Even for my quiet, first born, long days usually end in tears or stair stomping. If they have had one of these days, I try to recognize how tired they are and not even indulge in an argument or tantrum. We call it a day and put them to bed with as little fuss as possible. This usually looks like a quick teeth brush (if possible) and any calming bedtime routine that will end this crazy, forsaken day. Lots of times, my girls want to read books to calm them before bed. Even if it’s 11 p.m. we read them the books if it will get them to sleep in the calmest way possible.

What Can I Do Right Now to Diffuse This?

Sometimes, we have the perfect storm. We are out late, we are staying in a hotel, lots of people are around or we staying at a friend’s house and all ‘toddler-hell’ breaks loose. First things first, we remove them from all forms of stimulation. I usually take my older daughter for a walk away from everyone, or if it’s late, to a room (or hallway) where just her and I can sit and either talk or read. I find nothing rude about this, even at a friend’s house. It’s important to acknowledge their feelings (attitude or otherwise) and remove them from the offending situation. This tactic has always worked and always will, but a word of caution, there are times we’ve had to literally drag our kids out of a mess, kicking and screaming.

Once upon a time, when my daughter (who I shall not name), attempted to hit my husband in the face, repeatedly, while he was removing her from a tantrum in the post exchange. We’ve all been there, can I get an Amen? The point is, she was removed, we went somewhere quiet where she could either finish her tantrum, or calm down, or decide if it was time to go home because it’s obviously been too hectic of a day.

Word to the sane: I’m not perfect, these are just the notes I write myself to remember to follow the right steps when I’m dealing with a breakdown. I’ve screamed and yelled and many other things I’m not proud of. We are all just trying to do the right thing but don’t get down on yourself if you slip up because you have feelings and limits too. Remember, apologizing, especially to your children teaches them it’s okay to make mistakes but that we must own our actions and words.

I hope these questions can help you, the next time your in the middle of meltdown city. Are there any questions or tactics you use during tantrums?

Start with You

I find advice that begins with ‘start with yourself’ to be the best. I love Dave Ramsey and when my husband and I took Financial Peace University together I used to lay in the bath at night and watch his success story videos. Dave Ramsey has always recommended to ‘Pay Yourself First’. And it’s great advice. It’s worked for me and it’s worked for other people I know. Airplane stewards always direct you to place your oxygen mask on yourself before helping others around you, even including your children. It’s not just good advice it is life or death, even though in an emergency I imagine I’ll hold my breath to help my kid. But I know it’s not the right choice when I really think about it because who will help my kid when I’ve passed out from no oxygen!?! So basically pay yourself first, take care of yourself first because I bet no one else is going to do it for you.

My advice regarding minimalism is to focus on yourself first. There are many minimalist writers and bloggers out there and most of them recommend cleaning out that garage or basement first or even going for the easy trash in the living room method. I don’t recommend that. What you will get is trash removed from the living room and nothing else. I know this from experience and I’m sure a lot of people out there are just as overwhelmed as myself. So instead, pay yourself first!

Take some time and talk to a couple friends about ways they have simplified their lives. A great friend gives you energy. Find them, keep them, use them and support them in return. Don’t bring those people into your life that use, use, use and never give anything back, this person is NOT a friend! Your life will be so much better. You will have a support group, your own little cheerleaders leading you through life. Talk to your friends about what drives you crazy, what fills you with the most dread, what you miss doing the most and what you wish you could change, and what works for them. I bet you’ll learn a lot about your friends and how they keep a home, manage homework, pick-ups and drop-offs and so many other great things that could make your life easier that you never thought about. Plus, coffee and brioche with a friend is always a good thing.

Some great advice I’ve come across from books and my own friends and family are:

  • Drop perfectionism and the guilt it produces.
  • Get a relaxing hobby, like yoga. Or any other hobby you thoroughly enjoy just for you.
  • Learn to say “No” when you really don’t want to do something.
  • Treat negative people like the plague. They will only take your energy and give you none in return.
  • Find something to fill the shopping void. Do you shop when you are bored, stressed? Fill that gap with something you love…that isn’t shopping.

My favorite book on minimalism (“30 Days to a Simpler Life”) is quite outdated but has some great tips:

  1. Make forms for everything you do repeatedly (i.e. grocery shopping, chores, parties, volunteering). You can keep all these forms in a binder or in a family command center.
  2. Teach your kids to be responsible for their things. This one will save you more time than any other advice. Teach them young and save yourself time later.
  3. Make lists of all the things you need to do and create a management center on the fridge or open wall. Make sure your husband and children know these lists and are involved in helping you cross things off. Lists can include menus, shopping lists, activity lists.
  4. Pick one night a week to catch up on calls, emails, bills and forms. Sunday night is a good night, right before the next week starts. Forget about these tasks the rest of the week.
  5. Buy clothes that do not need dry cleaning, sheets that do no need ironing, an easy to manage hairstyle and other things you think will make your life easier. Life can be easier when we choose things that simplify our lives.
  6. Install a stacking washer and dryer in a closet near a teenagers room. You’ll never talk about wash again when it’s their own responsibility.
  7. My favorite advice from the book! “My major strategy for simplifying is to get as much exercise as possible, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, look for the best in everyone, and have a regular and exciting sex life. The rest falls into place.”