Expert / 8 July, 2024 / My Baba

7 Expert Tips For Keeping Calm During Toddler Temper Tantrums

Wondering about the secrets to keeping calm during toddler tantrums? Jennifer Mann and Karden Rabin, co-authors of The Secret Language of the Body share their expert tips on how to manage and stop toddler temper tantrums. 

Parenting is a journey that offers immense love and joy, but it also presents some of the toughest challenges, particularly during a child’s meltdown. We’ve all experienced those moments where, despite our best intentions, we find ourselves triggered and reacting in ways we wish we hadn’t. When we are fatigued and overwhelmed, our stress response kicks in, and the higher brain functions that help us stay calm become inaccessible. In these situations, relying on body-based practices rather than mental strategies is essential for maintaining our composure and supporting our child.

Here are seven science-backed and parent-tested tips to help you manage these challenging moments effectively. Try each one to see what works best for you, and don’t hesitate to combine them during a meltdown—they complement each other well!

Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a powerful tool to help calm your nervous system. The 4-7-8 technique can be particularly effective: inhale deeply through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this cycle a few times to center yourself during your child’s meltdown. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a state of relaxation and reducing the intensity of your stress response. Additionally, focusing on your breath can serve as a mindfulness exercise, helping you stay grounded in the present moment rather than getting swept up in the chaos.

Soften Your Tongue

You might not realise it, but the position of your tongue can influence your stress levels. When we’re stressed, we often tense our tongue and press it to the roof of our mouth, contributing to overall body tension. By consciously softening your tongue and letting it rest gently in your mouth, you can relax the entire core line of your body (throat, diaphragm, abdomen, and pelvic floor) and reduce reactivity. This simple adjustment can be a quick and effective way to lower your stress response and regain a sense of control.

Use Earplugs or Noise-Cancelling Headphones

When your child is having a meltdown, the loud noises can push you into sensory overload, making it difficult to stay calm. Using earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones can reduce the auditory intensity and help you maintain your composure. Research shows that reducing sensory input can significantly lower stress levels and improve emotional regulation. This simple tool can be a game-changer in maintaining your calm amidst the chaos. Additionally, the reduced noise can help you focus on your own breathing and calming strategies, rather than being overwhelmed by the sounds around you.

Engage in Progressive Muscle Relaxation with Hands and Forearms

When we get triggered, our nervous system often produces a lot of energy, making us want to scream or hit something. Instead of trying to repress all that energy, you can use progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) to channel it productively, alleviating tension and calming your nervous system. Focus specifically on your hands and forearms, as it’s easy to do mid-meltdown. Clench your fists tightly for a few seconds, then slowly release and let your hands relax. Repeat a second time and add a few rotations of your wrists before relaxing them. This technique not only helps release physical tension but also provides a momentary distraction, allowing you to reset and approach the situation with a clearer mind.

Use Vocalisation Techniques

Humming or singing a tune that you and your child both enjoy can be a lifesaver during a meltdown. This practice activates your vagus nerve, which helps send signals of calm to your body and brain instantly. Moreover, humming brings a sense of rhythm and synchrony between you and your child, helping them move out of upset and into connection, which is vital for a child’s emotional regulation. The sound vibrations can also be soothing for both you and your child, creating a shared calming experience that reinforces your bond.

Emotional Spreading

Emotional spreading involves expanding the felt sense of emotions throughout the body to build capacity for tolerating and integrating these emotions. When you feel overwhelmed, try locating the emotion or sensation in your body and consciously expanding it to other areas, like water being absorbed and spread throughout a paper towel. This can help dissipate the intensity of the emotion, making it more manageable. By spreading the emotion, you increase your body’s ability to process and regulate it, reducing the overall stress impact. This technique not only helps in the moment but also builds your resilience to handle future stressful situations more effectively.

Let Go of the Outcome and Connect with Your Child

A major source of stress during a meltdown is the belief that we must fix or stop it immediately. In reality, what our child needs most is our presence and support to navigate their intense emotions. By letting go of the need to control the situation and simply being there for your child, you reduce the pressure on yourself, allowing you to stay calm. This calm presence, in turn, helps your child feel safer and more at ease, making it easier for them to settle down. Being present can mean holding and comforting your child, or if they prefer not to be touched, using the humming technique while staying close to show you care. Sometimes, just knowing that you are there for them without trying to fix everything can provide the reassurance they need to calm down.

Navigating meltdowns as a parent can be extremely challenging, but employing these neuroscience-backed techniques can help you remain calm and offer the support your child requires. Keep in mind that it’s not about being perfect; it’s about being present and fostering a connection with your child. By using these strategies, you can create a more peaceful environment for both you and your child, promoting emotional resilience and a stronger parent-child bond.

Article by Jennifer Mann and Karden Rabin, co-authors of The Secret Language of the Body out 23 May, and co-founders of Somia International.

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