Dr. Charlotte Howard, a psychologist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, TX, talks with us about how to deal with a child who is throwing a tantrum and our role in soothing those big feelings.
Making Child Tantrums Stop
A lot of people want to shut down their kid’s feelings and they want to make the tantrum stop. That’s actually the exact opposite of the way you want to handle a child who’s having a tantrum or big feelings. They actually learn how to regulate their own feelings by being regulated tenderly by you. They are looking to be able to lean on your nervous system and feel like you are calm and centered and loving and that their feelings are welcomed. That comforting presence is soothing to any of us and it’s soothing to a child.
How Would You Want to be Treated?
The more children get ignored when tantruming or they get into a power struggle with their parent, where the parent wants them to shut up, basically—that just makes them feel more intense feelings. That’s what we do when we’re feeling abandoned or shut down by someone. Dealing with an upset child is much like dealing with an adult and how you would want to be treated. To be effective, you really slow down and become loving and nurturing.
Children Learn from Us as Parents
This is especially true with children because their brains are still trying to figure out how to regulate their emotions. We can’t expect them to do it and just imagine that they are capable of snapping out of their feelings. Instead, they really need to learn from us as parents. That’s why the holding and the soft tender tone will help soothe their nervous systems so that they will be able to internalize that and then be able to regulate themselves.
In the chaotic day-to-day of an adult’s life, how do you get into a mindset where it can become second nature to soothe versus projecting the chaos of your life onto your child?
You know, it’s a practice, but the feeling—your child’s feeling—is like a call that you respond to. It’s like a red flag. It helps bring us back to a place where we can recognize, “Oh more love is needed.” So, yes, it’s hard to transition from our busy lives and all the stresses to a more nurturing, centered, and emotionally-available place. But sometimes our child’s tantrum and even just the expression on their face is a cue that helps remind us. It’s very valuable that they help us learn to do that because we really need to establish that peaceful presence for ourselves more often, as well.
Bringing You Back to Present
Kids are really in your face about their needs. I feel that is a deep gift to bring you back to present and then help you make the space that you need to transition. It can be hard, but practicing and working to be nurturing with yourself will help you build and access that loving, grounded place more often where you can focus on what is important and not miss the meaningful moments of your life.
Starting Parental Therapy in Austin, TX
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