My son is upstairs screaming and it’s an hour past bedtime. In between wailing, he is asserting that his legs are in severe pain (more on that in a minute). He is escalating into a serious bedtime tantrum.
There are all sorts of reasons why kids start to escalate.
Working with parents and families as a Language of Listening® parent coach, I can wholeheartedly say the main reason is this:
And as a sub-category — missed communications related to connection.
How to calm serious bedtime tantrums
I’m sitting downstairs realizing that it’s time for me to intervene on a deeper level. My approach is simple but it does require time.
Helping a child through a bedtime tantrum, things to remember:
- When kids enter fight or flight mode, the logical part of their brain is shut off. They cannot process reason or logic.
- It is up to us as parents to be the calm in the storm, not join in the chaos.
- Everything kids say and do is a communication (based in Language of Listening).
- And all kids will continue to communicate until they feel heard (based in Language of Listening).
Remembering these ideas, I slowly and calmly walk up the stairs and into my son’s bedroom. It’s dark but smells musty from the tears and heat in the air.
I start with Say What You See® which is where you describe what the child is thinking, feeling, doing, saying without questions, fixing or judgments.
That night, it sounded something like this:
“Your legs hurt really bad. You can’t sleep.”
I find that short and to-the-point is always best, especially when a child is in fight or flight mode during a bedtime tantrum.
There is a brief break in his tears and this is how I know I’m on the right track. Anytime you see a child start to move toward calm – even in the slightest way – you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Follow up with one very important phrase during the tantrum.
I sat there for a moment to see if he would say something. Kids take a while to process conversations, and as adults, we tend to rush. So a hearty parenting pause can do wonders.
He spoke and continued to carry on about his legs being “out of control.”
And then I said one very important phrase to him that changed the entire dynamic in the room:
“I believe you.”
This was the turning point.
I use this phrase in a variety of situations with kids, and it’s amazing how much this can shift a situation from resistance to cooperation.
Kids are almost startled that they no longer have to convince you of something.
I also find that they will bring this up in conversation days later, saying something like, “I told my dad I was scared of monsters in my closet and he said he believed me.”
It is important to take children at their word.
A child’s brain works completely different to an adult brain. Their imaginations are vibrant. And to them, these thoughts and feelings are very much real.
So when a child comes to you and says, “I’m scared” And you respond with “I believe you,” the child is far more likely to open up to your guidance than if you tried to talk him out of it using logic and reasoning.
Discerning real versus pretend during tantrums.
You might be wondering if my son’s legs were truly in severe pain. Was this a serious case of growing pains? Perhaps something worse?
This is where I always watch and wait for what the child does next after we’ve established trust and connection.
I laid in the dark with my son while he continued talking. Simply listening to a child once they are ready to open up is a very powerful tool. Sometimes giving your attention and ears is all a child craves.
As kids continue to calm emotionally from a tantrum, observe what they do physically. It offers excellent insight into the root cause.
In this particular situation, my son drifted calmly to sleep. The leg issue resolved.
Regardless of your situation, the phrase is extremely helpful during any temper tantrum.
Just think of how powerful it would feel to you if each time you mentioned you were struggling with something another person simply turned to you and said – I believe you.
I believe you.
I believe you.
I can’t sleep.
I believe you.
Want more on parenting?
- Pillow Talks With Kids Are Every Parents Secret Weapon for Bedtime Cooperation
- Kids Fighting Bedtime? A Quick and Easy Toddler Bedtime Routine That Works
- 7 Effective Ways to Manage Toddler Tantrums at Bedtime
- How to Get Kids to Follow a Routine Without Reminders
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