Dealing With Tantrums – Minus The Mom Guilt
No matter how many times I show moms the research-based evidence that indicates it is not how much time we spend with our kids, but how we spend it, mom guilt abounds. It’s the quality not the quantity that matters, though. Children are resilient and as long as we address the meltdown (whether it’s ours or our kids’) most of the time and as soon as possible, they’ll be fine. We’re not scarring them for life. This includes us losing our temper, not knowing what to do, regretting our decisions, saying one thing and doing another, breaking our promises, and all the other scenarios you can imagine.
Here is what neuroscience teaches us:
When children misbehave, most of the time they are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.
Remember the acronym HALT before reacting to the behaviour and check for all four. It doesn’t mean that we are expected to do this every time before losing our patience – it is simply a helpful strategy to keep in mind.
Before age 3 years or so kids cannot tell us what it is that bothers them. They just know that something is wrong and when something is wrong, everything is wrong; they hate everything including mom and dad. We all know how useless it is trying to reason with a young child when they are having a meltdown.
Neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Siegel likens this to lecturing a drowning child about why he or she should not have gone swimming before getting him or her safely to the shore first – the child simply cannot hear anything we are trying to say. In his book “The Whole-Brain Child”– that I recommend to every parent I work with - Dr. Siegel teaches how we can help our kids to use their (and our) logical left brain together with the emotional right brain as a team.
When our kids are upset, we need to try connecting with them emotionally first – right brain to right brain. Then, once they are calmer and more receptive, we can use the left brain lessons and discipline. This is called “connect and redirect”.
Another helpful strategy is to “name it to tame it.” This is helpful when kids are in grips of an overwhelming emotional outburst. We need to help them tell their story about what happened that was so scary or upsetting, to help them make sense of their experience so that they feel more in control.
Keep in mind that the logical, rational decision-making part of the brain is still under construction well into the adolescence and can be easily “hijacked” by the emotional part of the brain that is present from the start.
We can also learn to be more aware when we are trying to make our kids into a vision of who we think we want or should have and, instead, let them be who they are. I am not suggesting we let our children rule the roost, or that anything goes. I am talking about listening to them and actually hearing what they are trying to tell us, learning to be present with them, and recognizing that they are unique beings – not extensions of us. Setting boundaries and discipline are an important part of this.
Don’t forget to practice self-compassion in general and, especially, when it comes to parenting. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, nor a perfect child. All you can do is your best and if you do this more often than not, you are doing a good job for all involved!
Lana Mamisashvilli is a psychotherapist who has worked in the field of perinatal mental health (pregnancy and postpartum) for more than 12 years and is passionate about helping new moms transition to motherhood. Healthy Moms cardholders receive a free 30 minute initial consultation with Lana (in person or by phone) and 25% off therapy sessions. Find out more here: https://gohealthymoms.com/lana-mamisashvili-counselling-psychotherapy