Give your kid and yourself time to calm down. Then ensure you have a constructive talk.

Children’s tantrum and bad behaviour

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Have you ever asked yourself or heard a parent ask “what do I do when my child is throwing a tantrum?” or “what do I do when my kid is not listening to me”

I have to admit that I have heard both a lot of times, and my answer is always the same: “nothing”

There is a lot of great publications there with great advice on this topic, my approach is much more simple and I opt for understanding what is happening and what you need to do next time.

The first part is understanding that in the middle of the situation (shouting, tantrum, bad behaviour) the child is in a highly emotional state. He is not listening to you; he can’t listen to you in that state. Remember the last big argument you had with your partner? With your boss, colleague, sibling? Did you listen to them? Or did you take their words to throw them back at them?… no need to answer.

Disregard of our age, when we are in a highly emotional state we tend to become defensive and aggressive at the same time. Our ability to listen constructively it is not really present. The funny thing is that we, parents, tend to put all our energy in the heat of the moment, precisely when it is less likely to have any effect at all. So, whatever you do is going to either be wasted or miss-interpreted in their advantage.

That’s why my advice is to do nothing. Let me explain a bit more.

We need to think about these situations in three stages: before, during and after. We need to adapt our strategies and approaches according to each stage.

Before: I am sure you can identify which situations will trigger the behaviour in your child. Talk to your child about it, about what happened last time, let them know what is expected, allow them to express their worries and frustrations and come up with their own possible ideas. Basically, help them prepare for it or even rehearse for it.

During: if, or when, the situation happens there is only one thing you can do: damage limitation. Stop it from escalating. This could be removing him from the room, stop the argument with their siblings (i.e. send them to a different area of the room) or anything that will stop this from getting worse. Keeping a balance yet firm approach is fundamental. Avoid taking sides; simply, stop it from going any further. Become a rugby referee: cool, calm and collected.

After: let them time to cool down and cool down yourself (you might have noticed the hint of the cup of tea in the picture). In some cases they’ll need 30 minutes, in others a few hours. Judge it by their level of calmness, tone of voice and interaction with you and/or the other part involved. Do not let it go without a talk! This is another of our major mistakes. We kiss, make up and forget. This stops the learning from happening. Talk about it, let them express their frustrations but focus mostly on how to do it better, what worked and what it didn’t worked. This is where the learning, the real learning, happens. Ensure you spend as much time as possible on this stage. If they did certain things right (i.e. he held for 5 minutes before reacting to his brother’s behaviour) praise them for it. Be sympathetic but firm, suggest ideas but allow them to create their own learning.

All this might seem like a lot of work, and it is a lot of work (parenting is a lot of work!). Just think that the more you do it now the easier it will get later on. My advice is to start as early as possible simply adapt the time and tone of conversation to the age. The more and earlier you do it, the easier the teenager years will be for all of you.

Here are some links to people that I respect and their opinions on the same topic: