Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

Tantrums: What’s Behind Them, and How to Help Your Child Through Them

What’s behind a tantrum? When a toy goes missing, when their cookie falls on the floor, when another child won’t share. In a toddler’s world, moments like these can result in every parent’s nightmare: a tantrum. Hidden behind these intense reactions to life experiences is the process of recognizing what emotions are, and how to regulate them. While these experiences can be frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing, there are ways we as parents can help our child process these experiences to help them build emotional regulation.

Psychologist Susan David was interviewed for a New York Times article to share with parents ways we can help our child through strong emotions, while also teaching them more about developing what she calls, “emotional agility”. Research in this article suggests that the more that children develop “emotional intelligence”, the greater their ability to cope, develop greater self-esteem, and lessen their risk for developing depression and anxiety.

How do we help our child through a tantrum, or a moment in which a child is experiencing strong emotions? Susan David shares with parents four ways to help a child get through these tough moments. These four ways are known as “feel it, show it, label it, watch it go”.

Feel it: This is all about the feelings, both positive and negative. Children need to recognize all types of emotions for what they are. An important element is to “validate” your child’s emotions.

Show it: Emotions need to be expressed. “Show it” is about not creating unhealthy limits around your child sharing their emotions with you. An example may be the idea that boys who cry are “weak”. Try to show your children that their emotions are not to be feared, and that you are there to help them create a safe place for their emotions.

Label it: This one is pretty important according to Dr. David because as she says, it “is a critical skill set for children”. Labeling it essentially adds tools to your child’s emotional toolbox. They know what they are, and how to use them appropriately. Dr. David allows shares that this type of practice in emotional intelligence is important in helping children to understand and develop empathy.

Watch It Go: Help your child to recognize how emotions, particularly difficult emotions, don’t last forever, and that it is possible for certain experiences to become easier. David shares in the article the example of how jumping off the high dive doesn’t always have to be the cause of fear or anxiousness. As the article says, “Children feel stronger as they begin to learn that it’s not how they feel, but how they respond to the feeling, that counts”.

To read the original NY Times article, click here.​  

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