The tantrum, like “the break-up” or “the first time you take an alcoholic drink”, is an epoch in a child’s life. Wow! Now they can tell you exactly how they feel, complete with dramatic performance of anger, sadness and defeat. While the tantrum is a developmental step that shows that your child is emotionally maturing, it’s hard on parents – and nannies. Glo-Worm has lately discovered the intricacies of the perfect tantrum, and all of our ears are ringing.
She is sick this week, so the tantrums are in full-force. “No” is anathema. Distracting her from anything, dangerous or simply annoying, causes a five-minute meltdown that includes flailing, hitting out, screaming, dramatic upthrowing of the hands and kicking. She could win an Oscar for the acting skills she displays at only 15 months old. I have to say I’m impressed – when I’m not trying to regain my hearing from her siren-like screams.
So, how does a nanny deal with tantrums? They’re extremely annoying, it’s true. I can’t really admit that they aren’t, despite the fact that I realize that it’s got to be frustrating to be Glo-Worm’s age with very little language and desires to be independent. While I mentioned in my discipline post that time-outs don’t really work for this age, what I meant was that a traditional time-out doesn’t really work. I still give Glo-Worm – and myself – a time-out, because sometimes it’s what we both need to stop feeling so rattled and relax.
So, when you find yourself with a tantruming child, here are some steps I use to calm the stormy waters:
1. Give them a few minutes alone: This can mean anything from walking away into another room (provided the child is in a safe place and can’t flail their way into an accident) or placing the child gently in a spot like a playpen or crib so that he or she can have their tantrum in peace without hurting themselves. This also gives the child a chance to calm down – and you to relax and consider next steps without screaming in your ear.
2. Determine the cause of the tantrum: Is it really about the toy that you just took away, or is the child sick, hungry, tired, or wet? Sometimes fixing the basic needs like determining that it’s lunchtime, naptime, diaper-change time or discovering a fever or a sore tummy can really go a long way into understanding the meltdown. Most of those problems have easy solutions, too.
3. Acknowledge the child’s feelings, but don’t give into the demands: I always tell Glo-Worm that I understand why she’s angry, upset, sad, frustrated. She needs words to put to these feelings, even if she can’t understand them now. Later, though, when she does start talking, she can name the feelings that she has. But I’m still not going to let her play with her father’s CD collection or grab my phone out of my hand. So I say, “I understand that you are angry that you cannot have my phone. But this is not yours, and I am going to put it away now.” A calming voice can sometimes reset a tantrum, and sometimes, she will just relax in my arms and stop crying when I do this.
4. Redirect, redirect, redirect: So Glo-Worm can’t have my phone. She can have this toy she hasn’t seen all day, or this other, safer household item like a wooden spoon or a plastic ice tray. These things feel “forbidden” to her, so she will often give up on what she can’t have and focus on what she can have.
5. Never punish or get angry in response to a tantrum: It doesn’t help, and it only teaches your child that their feelings don’t matter or are punishable. When they get older, you can teach them that tantrums are not appropriate ways of dealing with angry feelings, but the main thing is to still acknowledge that it’s okay to be angry, sad and frustrated. Adults feel these emotions all the time, and it’s okay to feel them. It isn’t okay to take out feelings on others, and that is what you can teach your child. At Glo-Worm’s age, though, children have no other way of expressing their feelings. A tantrum is a legitimate form of expression, not a way to make you angry or upset. Children that age never cry to make you angry. If you need a few minutes, place the child in a safe spot and take a few minutes. It’s okay to acknowledge and express your feelings in an appropriate way, too.
Tantrums are annoying – but they’re also important to a child’s development. I’m glad that Glo-Worm feels comfortable enough with me to throw fits over what she’s frustrated about. She’s trying to communicate. I do my best to meet her communication with an appropriate response – which will hopefully cut down on this type of expression later!