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?” In severe cases you may even hear parents ask, “Where can I send my out of control teenager?”
I have to admit that in all my career of coaching kids, I have heard all, a lot of times, and my answer is always the same: “NOTHING”
There are lots of great publications out there with great advice on anger management for teens and related topics. However, my approach is much simpler. I opt for understanding what is happening and what you need to do next time.
Understanding the Tantrum State
Working as a life coach for kids, I have a better understanding of the tantrum state. The first part of anger management for teens is understanding that in the middle of the situation (shouting, tantrum, bad behaviour) the child is in a high emotional state. He/she is not listening to you; he/she can’t listen to you in that state. Remember the last big argument you had with your partner, boss, colleague, sibling? Did you listen to them? Or did you take their words to throw them back at them?… No need to answer.
Regardless of our age, when we are in a high emotional state we tend to become defensive and aggressive at the same time. We momentarily lose the ability to listen constructively. Through coaching kids, I’ve figured its harder for children to deal with the heat. This is probably because of their lower intelligence and lack of experience. The funny thing is that we, parents, tend to put all our energy in the heat of the moment. This is less likely to have any effect at all. So, whatever you do or say is going to either be wasted or misinterpreted.
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. I emphasize a lot on this during my parenting classes.
The Stages of Tantrum in Children
I am sure you can identify which situations will trigger tantrum or bad 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. Interestingly, you don’t need to be a career life coach for kids to be able to do this. In a relaxed state, children are easy to talk to and their listening potential is higher.
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/her from the room, stopping 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. In my parenting classes, I help parents to understand how this can be done.
Give 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 when it comes to anger management for teens. 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 didn’t work. 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/she held for 5 minutes before reacting to his/her 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!). Inasmuch as I have been coaching kids for many years now, it is still a lot of work for me too. Just know 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 their age. The more and earlier you do this, the easier the teenage years will be for all of you.
Here are some links to people that I respect and their opinions on the same topic: