Inside: Learn two important words that can help tame temper tantrums in length and intensity. Plus, how the toddler brain works and why tantrums happen.
This morning my 2-year-old daughter asked me for a banana. I nodded. I grabbed the banana. I started peeling. Then like a parenting rookie, I made a terrible mistake.
In order to give her a smaller portion of the banana, I broke it in half.
Tears instantly gushed from her eyes like a dam broke, and I stood there holding a half banana in each hand—dumbfounded. She opened her mouth wide, tilted her head back and I knew the real blow was coming.
Her high pitched screeching zapped my brain into flight or fight mode, and immediately, I tried to “glue” the banana back together, which is code for…I tried to mush it back together (and failed miserably).
Between screeches, she wailed to me.
“It’s bwooooken. And mush-eeeee.”
My head spun as I attempted to give myself a parenting pep talk: fix the banana, yell at her to stop crying, okay fine…hide in the closet, no that’s ridiculous…buck up you sissy! and take on this 2-year-old like you own the place!
So I totally did.
Except not in the way you think.
The toddler brain is an interesting thing.
Did you know that from birth to age three your child’s brain generates 1 MILLION new neural connections a second? (It was previously thought to be 700 new connections a second).
This is staggering amount of brain wiring in a very short period of time.
When you think about it like that, it makes so much sense why a “broken” banana would motivate a 2-year-old to create a river out of tears.
She’s in the middle of a deep, winding and weaving process that grows brain connections for…
From a logical perspective, and when you’re not listening to high-pitched screaming that rivals an out-of-tune Mariah Carey, it’s so cool. Right?
But then you return to reality and hear the screaming. It comes out of nowhere. It’s frustrating. And if I’m being brutally honest, it’s also ridiculously annoying.
You want a solution. You need something that will shorten the duration of screaming, and hopefully, minimize the loudness too. There is no magic button to turn off a temper tantrum. But there are two words that can dramatically shorten a temper tantrum.
How to tame a temper tantrum.
More than anything, kids want to feel heard and understood. One of the principles of Language of Listening®, the 3-part parenting framework that I use, is that kids will continue to communicate until they feel heard.
This is the exact reason your kids pull at your leg whining, “mom. mom. Mom. MOM. MOOOOMMMMM,” until you acknowledge and respond about the tiny leaf crunched between their fingers.
They can’t stop telling you about something until they know that you get it.
At the end of the day, it always comes down to what the child’s wants mattering to someone. Your child desperately wants you to understand his or her wants.
That’s kids (and humans) in a nutshell.
So here’s what you say.
As my daughter wailed over her broken banana – “It’s bwooooken. And mush-eeeee.” – I took a deep breath and remembered two important words from my Language of Listening® training.
Honest. Two words. “You wanted…”
“You wanted the banana whole. And now it’s two pieces. It’s broken AND mushy!”
I repeated myself several more times, waiting for her brain to register.
“Of course, you wanted the banana whole! And now it’s in two pieces! That’s not what you wanted.”
And then she did what she often does after hearing her wants validated.
She took a deep breath. Nodded. Wiped her eyes.
She looked at the banana one more time...and cried. Because that’s what toddlers do. They oscillate from an overactive emotional brain as they work to build more neurons and gain self-control.
It’s what makes parenting babies, toddlers and preschoolers incredibly challenging. It’s hard work supporting your child through this enormous stretch of brain development.
It requires extraordinary patience.
But here’s the good news.
Each time your child dives into a temper tantrum, all you need to remember are two simple words: You want..
“You wanted to play with that toy.”
“You wanted that cookie.”
“You wanted to ride your bike.”
“You wanted to play with your friend.”
The more your child believes you, the more effective your words. (In the past I referred to this as “matching the intensity.”) You’ll notice your child might oscillate between their upset and hearing your words. This is so normal.
It’s not about logic. In fact, it’s about as far from logical reasoning as you can get. Validating your child’s want is about meeting her where she is in the moment – deep in her emotional brain trying to build neurons – learning how to develop relationships, communication, self-control and problem solving skills.
It might start with validating an upset over a broken banana, but 15, 20, or 30 years down the road it’s knowing that what you want matters…even if you can’t have it right away.
Want more on parenting?
- 2-Year-Old Not Listening? Try This Remarkable Tip
- This Playful Parenting Game Is the Best Way to End Power Struggles
- How to Get Your Kids to Follow a Routine Without Reminders
- One Genius Phrase to Try When Your Kid Says, “I Can’t.”
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