Dealing with tantrums

I have been teaching my son how to control his frustrations for some time. It has been an issue for us and it has mellowed down quite significantly over the years. Still, it needs some work. I understand how hard it can be for his teachers in class when he bursts out on occasion-we’ve had to pull our hair out as well. Here are some example scenarios:

My son falls of some cliff for the 4th time in the video game he is playing. He’ll throw down the controller and burst out yelling “I am never going to get this!” and runs out to the bedroom to wail. After about 8 mins, he comes back pacified. I ask him if he is done, he says “yes” with a pouty face. And we have a short talk about how we will not buy a new controller if he breaks it when he has his tantrums. Previously, something like this meant a 30minute floor session making dust angels.
Another example is when he is putting on his seat belt. Sometimes he has a hard time getting his seat belt on. Lately it has worsened when he is wearing a thick jacket, or when we have junk laying in the car seat that bury the latch he has to get to. He will struggle and will resort to pulling it repeatedly-then with one last strained pull and a grunt as long as he can push for-he tries one last time. If it still does not click in, he will burst out screaming “dad I can’t get in in,it’s just so hard”. (This is partly my fault, as I will hurry him to buckle up because we are late for his school. I get stressed and I pass this onto him. I have since worked on this and am still, but he also has to deal with it as a separate issue.)
Photo credits: Typical tantrum by SKXE (Flickr)
I know these are menial things, but these are examples of small things that can happen to us on any random day. Small things like these can ruin the mood for an entire weekend. It also makes us upset and sometimes we end up yelling even more. None of these are great for enriching our family experience. Here are some steps we’ve been making to deal with the issue.


I am building myself a mental/emotional buffer

The buffer is made of non-emotional, monotonous and stoic response. When he freaks out about a game, I respond with a very dry and boring “okay let’s just stop playing the game if you cannot have patience to learn it”. This sometimes works, and I am adjusting it based on the situation. Maybe this is not a great example, but the point is for me to not reciprocate the tension he puts out. I respond calm and intentionally empty of feelings, with a mental hint of a consequence to his actions.

I interrupt it

I interrupt it before he peaks the tantrum. As he frantically tries to buckle his seatbelt for the nth time, he will start to speak in a tensed up voice. It will sound like “dad, i…just…can’t…find this…”and before he can even finish the sentence-which also is the peak of his patience after which he will burst into tantrum once the sentence is finished-I will calmly interrupt his sentence. I will blurt out “Oh I think I know how to help you fix that”. This response is not as dry, and  has a smile in the words I use. It breaks his pace and buys us time to talk him down and try it slower. In this situation I am interrupting his build-up, then redirecting his energy downward so that we can give him the support to do it himself.


Simulating the frustrating scenario

I’m contemplating on an exercise we can do to more proactively deal with this character trait. I will set up a situation where he will face a task designed to get frustrated. I will inform him that the exercise is for me and him, and should help both of us with the tantrums and frustrations. We would then go and do the exercise and repeat it until he really does get frustrated and learns to detach from it emotionally. When he does, we can either end the exercise or I can help him solve the problem. Depending on the exercise, this will also teach him the value of practicing a new skill and being humble. After the exercise is done, we will talk about what he went thru and learned, much like how we have mini-talks about lessons from small things. He loves to learn, and these talks work well for him.

Building our buffer

On our end we have to accommodate some of his traits. He will be distracted with some thing so we have to remind him until he has learned how to prioritize certain tasks (i.e. first thing to do when you get in the car is to buckle up). We also add extra time so we have a buffer against stress. If he still does get distracted, or if we miss reminding him, then we have time to redo it and we do not immediately get stressed out.

Credit: Shakko (Wikipedia)

Reacting is not effective

After doing the reactive thing for some time, I realize it is extremely not efficient. By reactive, I mean reacting to his tantrum by out-tantruming him sort of. Not only do we both end up upset, but the situation escalates. I hate myself when this happens-I feel I should be more in control of myself and at least not reciprocate. For this, the more stoic response worked out better in the long run (by this I mean that same session). I reciprocate with a non-emotional response and we de-escalate the drama. If he escalates the yelling, I continue to respond non-emotionally but remind him that there are consequences he will face (i.e. we are not going to X store as we planned to, or no this or that when we get home).

I am by no means an expert parent. I have a lot of bugs that need to be fixed, and these are my ways of working thru some of them. These work for us because of how we are and what our individual characteristics are. Every parent has to adapt their ways to how the whole family is. Every parent has to adapt to their kids. That is why kids never come with an instruction manual-there’s just too many factors that affect it. One key thing though, is to be observant of how we react to each other and base the solutions on that. In my case I feel I am the one who adapts easiest, so I adapt to my family and I try to coach them to find better ways to deal with issues. It is partly a burden, but also a gift.

I hope this has helped you think of some ways to deal with the tantrums. Keep in mind, you need to make the decision on how to deal with it before it actually happens. Always try to de-escalate it first. The goal is always to improve our lives for the long term and sometimes we need to take small steps to get there.