When my youngest child turned 4, we finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel of the much-feared “terrible twos” tantrum stage.
When children are still unable to express what they want, there may seem to be more moments of frustration than joy in parenting, especially when dealing with meltdowns. With my daughter, there was a tantrum whenever we insisted on instructions she did not want to follow or when she could not tell us exactly what she needed.
In hindsight, the process of her outgrowing these meltdowns was mostly age-related, as she developed self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate. I also worked through these issues and the feelings that were arising together with her1.
As my girl matured, her ability to manage her frustrations grew with her ability to convey what she needed with words.
I’m not crying, you are
As the adult, I had to deal with my own emotions instead of reacting to her outward expressions – no matter how overwhelming they were.
Of course, working with my daughter through her meltdowns wasn’t an easy process for either of us. Each time she was upset, I would get frustrated and angry as well.
So often, I was tempted to do what my own parents would do – scold her loudly and threaten her so that she would stop crying.
But when I reflected on how she was doing this because she was struggling to verbalise her feelings and frustrations, I knew that as the adult, I had to deal with my own emotions instead of reacting to her outward expressions – no matter how overwhelming they were.
That’s when I gradually learnt how to take deep breaths before I spoke, and only when I felt calm enough to deal with the situation, I acknowledged her feelings and verbalised them for her.
For example, I would say, “I know you are upset because you cannot have ice cream before lunch”, followed by a simple explanation of why we had made that decision. This did not mean the meltdown would end immediately or be over any quicker – but as she grew older and more verbal, calming the tantrums with these familiar reasonings became easier.
Finding calm amidst the storm
All photos courtesy of Matthias Chong
Besides acknowledging my daughter’s feelings when she got upset, here’s what worked well in helping my little one overcome her frustrations:
- Be a voice of expression and reason
In a difficult situation that is frustrating your child, giving words to his (or her) needs can be comforting and a good guide. Try verbalising his thoughts and what he is actually trying to achieve or ask for.
A possible phrase: “I know you are upset because you are having trouble doing this. Ask Mummy for help by saying, ‘Mummy, I can’t do this yet. Can you please help me out?’”
- Be open to alternatives
If your child is melting down when you will not give him what he wants, teach him how to request for something else that would also count. For example, if he can’t have ice cream because he’s having a cough, suggest that he asks for a vitamin gummy (also in moderation) instead.
- Be generous with praise
When your child is able to verbalise his needs instead of kicking up a fuss, words of encouragement are great positive reinforcements. Simple praise such as “you did well when you told Mummy what you needed,” can bring smiles to a tear-stained face.
It took me some time, but these efforts of helping my daughter get in touch with her feelings and communicating with those around her have finally paid off with more smiles and happiness at home. The light at the end of the tunnel is coming – keep breathing, keep hoping.
Michele Soon works for a social service agency doing corporate communications and is a mother of four children aged 5 to 15.
This article was first published on ParentWise. Developed by Temasek Foundation in partnership with SEED Institute (subsidiary of NTUC First Campus), ParentWise is a programme that offers curated evidence-based learning programmes and resources that parents and caregivers need to support their children. For more parenting tips and resources, please visit ParentWise at https://parentwise.sg/.