How to use tantrums to connect with your child

If you have a child between 1 to 5 years of age, I’m pretty sure you’re facing epic tantrums.

Let’s first define what a tantrum is: a tantrum is an outburst of emotions.

Young children have very immature brains. They are prone to tantrums.

When they cannot cope with a situation, they will lose their temper.

The reasons children have tantrums vary. Some say they may get triggered by tiredness, hunger or thirst. It’s very likely that you will face tantrums even if you take preventive measures to fulfill your children’s basic needs.

Our children rely on us to learn about the world around them. We are their role model. We help them learn how to put on their shoes, read and write, and how to handle their emotions.

A tantrum is the perfect opportunity for us to role model how to cope with an emotionally charged situation.

When your child throws himself on the floor, cries because he wanted to play at the park for longer, goes ballistic because you tell him off when he pulls your dog’s tail, this is when you have a great opportunity to connect with him.

This is the perfect time to show your child how to handle big emotions – and that, even if he’s having a tantrum, you still love him unconditionally.

Sounds challenging?

Yes, it is.

Being a parent is not all about the quality time.

When I was pregnant, I was daydreaming about my future children. I was not imagining the sleepless nights, the “no” phase, the fussy eating and the repetitive tantrums.

I was picturing myself baking muffins with my children, going to the zoo and having long walks on the beach (we lived in Ireland next to the sea for 5 years).

Reality can hit you hard sometimes.

Seeing our children’s difficult behaviours as opportunities to guide them and to connect with them makes our parenting easier.

My youngest had several tantrums a day for 3 years. I’m not joking. It got so bad that my eldest started to wear earplugs at the dinner table.

Instead of fearing his tantrums, we decided to welcome them.

Next time your child cries because his sandwich is not cut into triangles, respond with love and empathy to his outburst of emotions. Refrain from telling him it’s ridiculous. You might feel you’re about to burst in tears. I know how you feel. I’ve been there before. Especially that, yesterday, he preferred his sandwich cut in squares.

Remember that his brain is very immature. He doesn’t wind you up on purpose.

Responding to tantrums with calmness is not easy.

I am sure that you can do it.

I walked in your shoes. I navigated twice the first 6 years of life. I have had my share of terrible tantrums.

Although he is a sensitive boy, my son can now express his emotions in a safe and manageable way.

Responding to a tantrum with empathy doesn’t mean giving in.

You’re not a “weak” parent if you cuddle your child when she’s upset because she can’t have an ice cream. And it’s not because she cries loudly that you should surrender.

Boundaries are healthy. Just accept that your children will be upset.

Validate your child’s emotions: “I know you are upset because you wanted to stay longer at the park, but we have to go back home to cook the dinner”.

Reacting with empathy will not stop the tantrum. You may allow the gates to open and get even more tears and crying.

Allow your child to cry and scream while keeping her safe. Move her to a safe area if necessary. When your child is safe, show her that you love her unconditionally.

No matter what, you are there for her. You hold a space for her to express herself. You can cope.  You are there. You relate to her.

Let’s not fool ourselves, at times it will get very challenging.

Some of us have a full-time job, a new-born or an older sibling to take care of. Our ability to cope with a tantrum will be affected by how well our own needs are fulfilled. Also, the way we were raised might trigger an automatic response.

Reminding us of our child’s development stage is very important.

Let me know in a comment: what was the most epic tantrums you face? How do you cope with tantrums?

Take the Gentle and Montessori Discipline Course - self-paced with Live monthly Zoom call

Get access to the course and join our tribe of like-minded, non-judgmental parents. 

About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.