Reduce tantrum by staying curious with our kids


Age 3 is a difficult frustrating age.  I noticed Love can say a lot of things, the sentence makes sense but many of time, it's out of context.  She has an older sister whom she learned a lot of words and phrases from, but the comprehension isn't totally there yet.  She gets stressed and frustrated often because she can't fully describe what she is feeling. It doesn't help that sometimes what she's saying doesn't match up with what she's feeling/experiencing.  I have to remind C and Bee to be patience with her, give her lots of time to express herself, watch for clues and ask open ended questions, to help us figure out what's really happening.

Yesterday at Strong Start, we had a community staff stopped by to share with us some tips on parenting.  One tip she shared (re. bad behavior like hitting), is that as parents we should stay curious with our children,   I thought about it, the word "curious" is very fitting.  It means to explore, to ask questions, to want to know, to be inquisitive.  To get to know our kids and to find out what causes the outburst or tantrum, what I have learned with Love is to take time to observe her.  (Bee wasn't so complicated :) we cruise through 3, 4 & 5 with her).  I also ask her short open ended questions.  Open ended questions allow the kids do most of the answering and give us more info. without us imposing our thoughts on them.  Like asking Love "You're upset.  Tell mommy what makes you go Grrrr !!!"(she does that when she's mad) and I always get something out of her.  For the older one, instead of asking "How's school ?" (something I used to ask and it's so general), I now ask something like "Tell me about the lunch time games you played today" and she would tell me about it and always with other tidbits, like the boy who kissed her cheek.

Temper tantrum for Love doesn't just happen for no reason.  I think when kids misbehave, that behavior is an expression or outcome of an unmet need or an undesirable feeling.  I'm no expert here, just an observation from what I see of my kids.  I also learnt that at 3, kids can only deal with one emotion at a time.  When Love frustrated or upset, she can only deal with that present emotion.  Nothing else mattered to her at that moment.  She needs us to help her to understand that it's OK to feel the way she does, however if she hit or yell or scream, that is not ok and we need to help her learn to express her feeling using worded instead of acting up.

The more I observe and gain more insight into Love's behaviour, I find I can easily pick up when she's in distress, which allow me to calmly ask her how I can help.  I usually say to her "Mommy see you are upset (or frustrated, or angry, or sad, or scare) ?  What can mommy do to help ? " and if she is really upset, she would hit the wall or table and scream louder and I would tell her "Can you talk to me without screaming ?  When you scream I don't understand you so I can't help (show her my sad face) !  Here, tell it to me, in my ear".  I would then lean my ear into her and she would mumble to me the reason for her anger.  Then whatever it is that she's telling me, I would ask her "What should we do ?", she would respond back (more calm, no more yelling) and I would offer, "Do you want mommy to help ?".  I noticed that the more I engage with her, using short questions or comments that she can understand, she can convey her feeling back to me a little better and clearer.  This has been working really well for us.

With Love I always always have to remind myself that she's only 3 :-)  She's so vocal so it's easy to forget sometime, but she's only 3.  She doesn't really have the same comprehension level as her sister and no where near us parents.  Knowing that she can only deal with her present emotion has really helped us in helping her.  Knowing her limit helps me to be more discerning.  I can't completely get rid of tantrum, it's a part of growing and developing for Love.  But I can reduce it by helping her to recognize what she is feeling and helping her with the words to describe it.  I noticed the change in her and me.  I feel I'm more aware of her, more in tune, and can diffuse an outburst pretty fast.  It helps that she trusts me in explaining how she feels.  This makes for faster resolution !!!

I think if we pay attention to our kids, watch them, and listen to them, listen with our ears and eyes, we will have some leading clues on what generally makes them upset or what usually instigate the outburst.  I feel prevention is better than dealing with it and trying to correct them after.  It does take a lot of effort on our part to prevent outburst and to diffuse temper tantrum before it gets out of hand, but we're OK with it.  I rather put in the effort and time than dealing with a kid throwing a full tantrum.  Once they past a certain threshold, it's harder to calm them down and by then everyone is frustrated and unhappy, me included.  Perhaps in a way, it's my lazy approach :D

The more Love can label and communicate how she feels the less frustrated she will be = less opportunity of a melt down.  How good she is with communicating her feeling is dependent on us parents to help her :)