Expert / 20 July, 2021 / My Baba
Wondering how to cope with toddler tantrums and difficult behaviour from your kids? The Family Treatment Service are on hand with expert advice on how to deal with difficult behaviour.
The impact of the pandemic on parents has been by no means easy. It has without a doubt been one of the most testing times for many as they were forced to take on the role of teacher as well as parent, juggling family life, home-schooling, their careers and everything else in between. It’s only natural for parents to be feeling an amplified level of stress, pressure and overwhelm and as most of us know, this recipe isn’t conducive to helpful, conscious parenting and can cause parents to ‘snap’ when they are triggered by their children’s behaviour, especially when dealing with toddler tantrums.
The Oxford University-led COVID-19 Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children in Epidemics (Co-SPACE) study, found that parents and carers reported an increase in symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, especially during the period from November to December. They reported difficulties with relaxing, being easily upset or agitated, feeling hopeless, more over-reactive and impatient. Notably, parents who had young children (10 or younger) living in the household reported particularly high stress during the first lockdown and around a third of them (36%) were substantially worried about their children’s behaviour at that time.
In a bid to reduce this level of stress and overwhelm so that mums and dads can parent effectively, Jemma Meeson, Systemic Psychotherapist and Dr Zara Rahemtulla, Clinical Psychologist from the newly opened mental health clinic in the heart of Wimbledon Village, The Family Treatment Service, are offering their top tips for parents on managing their own emotions and as a result their triggers to their children’s blow-ups, meltdown and toddler tantrums.
The Family Treatment Service provides exceptional mental health therapies from a highly experienced team of Psychologists, Psychotherapists, Family Therapists, Occupational Therapists and Nutritionists, specialising in Family, Child and Couples Therapy. The opening of their clinic in Wimbledon Village aims to simplify access to specialist advice at a time when it is needed most, all with the convenience of a High Street location, and thoughtfully designed interiors to reflect the comfort and privacy found at home.
When we are feeling stressed and anxious it’s easy to become overwhelmed by your child’s behaviour, especially those emotional toddler tantrums. What triggers us will be different for everyone. Our reactions will be dictated by our experiences in our own families when we were growing up, and our expectations about how children “should” behave. Of course, our own stress, tiredness, hunger and other difficulties in our lives will make it even harder to react in the way we might like, so it’s important to look after ourselves, which may mean getting our own help when we need it.
Our children are always watching and listening. They will copy the way we talk to others around us and pick up on any tensions or relationship difficulties. Try to prioritise your relationship and notice when things are not working as you would like them to. It takes the average couple 6 years to access Family Therapy when they are experiencing difficulties. These problems are often very easily solved, as small changes in a system can make a significant difference – do not be afraid or embarrassed to go and see someone and get help.
Noticing our own thoughts and feelings will help us think about our patterns of reaction, and make changes if we need to. But it will also help us act as a role model to our children in demonstrating how to manage difficult emotions such as anger and sadness. After a toddler tantrum or tricky moment has passed, try to take some time to consider what emotions you were experiencing e.g. did your child’s crying make you feel overwhelmed with sadness yourself, or did you find it difficult to empathise with why they were upset? Learn about what helps to soothe you in these moments – it might be hard to know but this is something you could ask for advice about from others – what do they do in these moments?
Our parents may have had a “children should be seen and not heard” mentality, or ideas about how they should behave. We now know that the best way to support a child with their feelings is to stop and recognise them as soon as they arise, and to validate them. This means seeing the world from their point of view, even if it may differ from your own or be hard for you to empathise with. We like to view toddler tantrums, blow ups, and meltdowns as connection seeking not attention-seeking from children and young people, although it can be hard to respond to this in the moment.
For example, when a child hits out, they may be trying to send you an SOS about how they are feeling, but often we view these behaviours as “naughty” and so the focus becomes about telling them off rather than listening to what they need from you. Something you can do differently is to name what is going on for them, e.g. “it made you angry when your sister took your toy.” This will help them to recognise their own feelings and calm down, as well as learn how to process these emotions themselves in the future. This is a skill we all need, and it helps us to become calm confident adults.
We all make mistakes, and there is no “right” way to parent. Imagine the pressure of having a perfect parent to live up to – it would be so stressful! We are all human and don’t know what to do all the time. The good news is that we can repair broken bonds and heal relationship wounds. This is also great role modelling for our children who will need these skills to repair their own relationships. The best apology has a recognition of how you made the other person feel, and your own thoughts and feelings. E.g. “I was feeling scared and it made me shout when you cycled off really fast. That was scary for you and I’m sorry. Would a hug make you feel better?”
We all need to learn and adapt in all of our relationships as they grow and change, whether that is with your partner or with your children. Your child is developing so quickly and their brain is changing every day. What worked today might not work tomorrow. Of course, we can all look back at difficult times and have regrets about our responses, but we can’t turn back time and can only do the best that we can with the tools that we have. It is also helpful to remember that your children learn from everyone around them and all the situations that they find themselves in – you are not responsible for teaching them every lesson in life. Sometimes they just have to figure it out through experience – positive or negative.
Credit: The Family Treatment Service are running a number of workshops for parents in the coming weeks to help them manage difficult behaviours and emotions. Please see below for more detail and visit https://www.thefamilytreatmentservice.com/workshops to register.