Prevent Power Tantrums – It’s Easy

Stress comes in many forms and one form is dealing with the abundance of modern western life. We don’t usually think of abundance as a source of stress, but let’s consider. How many different types of cereal are for sale at your supermarket? How many jobs could you do? How many options do you have when it comes to ordering a coffee? And as for our children…

“I want Museli, no cornflakes…no, I’ll have toast. No, I don’t want toast, I want weetbix. I said museli, why did you make me toast? It’s not fair…”

People are largely non-conscious beings. We know this, if we’ve ever been in ‘the zone’ …so engrossed in an activity that we lose track of time. We know this every time we put our foot in our mouth during a conversation, because we just weren’t ‘thinking’. And  it’s a good thing that we are mostly non-conscious – we’d go nuts (technical term) if we consciously noticed all the details in our lives.

The key is this: when we’re in a truly non-conscious state we are non-verbal. That pesky little voice in our head is silent.We don’t even put labels on things – it’s not a rose, pink or even a flower – it’s just there. It’s all very Zen (and most of us don’t realise we’re doing it). Our brains love this La-La state, it’s both HIGHLY alert and relaxed at the same time. It’s where we feel most content and calm, but are also at our most productive and creative.

Consciousness has it’s uses, certainly, we wouldn’t be human without it. It’s the state we need to be in when we analyse a situation or make a serious decision. But there is a flip side to consciousness: fear and anxiety. If we’re consciously making choices, for example, we’re also somewhat conscious of what we haven’t chosen. On some level there is a degree of  fear that we’ve made the wrong choice. Fear means our body is on alert: muscles tight, adrenalin pumping, blood pressure up – when it probably doesn’t need to be. The more conscious choices we have to make, the more options we have, the more chance we’ve got it wrong. This can in turn lead to anxiety. What are others thinking of our choice? What if we’ve missed the best opportunity because of that choice? Is that what we were meant to choose? Our experience becomes completely caught up in the past or the future, and we start referencing ourselves to external factors. We begin to focus on our job, or our house, or our clothes, or our grades or who we are friends with – and our sense of self becomes caught up in things or other people’s opinions of us. We stop being content. We don’t hear birdsong or feel the wind on our skin, we’re too worried about whether we measure up, or not.

Children are the same, but different. They are more naturally non-conscious than adults. 

Children who show mature behaviours spend more time in La-La land than those who grow up sassy/sophisticated. Especially before the age of nine or ten, the bulk of children’s decision making is meant to be done in the moment: in La-La land. Conscious decision making, for children, is meant to be rare. The more parents ask their children to make conscious decisions (often thinking they’re being kind) the more likely those children are to throw regular Power Tantrums. Children don’t tell us every minute of the day how they are feeling (although those with high emotional intelligence tell us more frequently than others)… they show us with their behaviour. The worse the behaviour: the greater the amount of stress they’re under. (Apart from children under serious stress who tend to shut down.)

So here’s a suggestion. Leave your children to their spontaneous decision making, such as: when they’re playing, or if they chose to wear certain clothes (weather appropriate), but remove the bulk of their fundamental choices. Store away 80% of their toys, and 50% of their books. Have only one type of cereal in the house; if they haven’t dressed themselves, hand them their clothes; and hand them their snack or their lunch without speaking (you know what they like). Tell them it’s time for bed or the car, when you’re completely ready, and don’t get distracted until they’re where they’re meant to be. You organise what’s going to happen (yes, perhaps around their previous requests), don’t wake up and say, “what shall we do today?” (They’ll tell you what they want to do anyway.)  Say things like, “That’s an adult decision,” and “This is what’s happening,” and don’t enter into negotiations or discussion once you’ve made a stand. You don’t have to be mean or intense, just softly spoken, calm and in control. Don’t dither!
Yes, they’ll probably complain, loudly, to begin with – but give it a week or two. And let me know what happens.

(For toddlers, it’s about managing their Power Tantrums as much as  avoiding them.Keep to the same principles of staying in control of the fundamentals in their lives and check out Signs of Great Parenting: Babies and Toddlers. Prevention of later tantrums begins in toddlerhood.) Here’s another post, which ties in with this: here.

(Should you find this article useful, Koha is accepted, $1 is fine. The button is under my blog-roll. :))


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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17 Responses to Prevent Power Tantrums – It’s Easy

  1. Interesting point of view and is certainly tickling my gray matter. I find, in my house, that I use different strategies with my different boys. I found that parental books offer a ‘one size fits all’ approach and this doesn’t work in realites of life as we’re not all ‘one size.’ My eldest is has a mature outlook in life and can make the most amazingly well thought out decisions so we give him choice and lots of control over his life and all that entails. We’ve never had tantrums with him (really!) so it was a bit of a surprise when our second son, (the boy full of Grrrrr!), started having tantrums. He can’t cope with much choice but still does like some. I limit his choices to things I know he likes and the things that matter to him. He loves weetabix so he’s offered other things to broaden his horizons but he can have weetabix if that’s what he’d like. He’s given his coat and jumper to put on but if he doesn’t want to wear them I do explain why he needs them but it is his choice to put them on. I refuse to make wrestling my child to the floor to get his coat on a part of the morning routine.

    So my outlook is try to treat them as individuals with different needs and personalities. I would hate it if someone made all the decisions in my life for me but sometimes, when I’m stressed and I can’t see the woods for the trees, it is helpful to have those choices limited to ‘what do you want to do? THIS or THAT?

    I found Alfie Cohen a bit of a revelation, I don’t agree with all he says but there’s a lot that made me think about how I parent and how I want to parent.

    I’m off to read more of your blog :o)

    • kloppenmum says:

      I agree that children have very different temperaments, which always makes life interesting. My information is there for consideration…not dictatorship and is based on what makes a happy brain. Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a long response.

      • Really didn’t think you were dictating 😮
        I love reading other people’s opinions and then having a think myself. I’m very self -refelctive, I think a lot of teachers (be them ex teachers like us) are.

        • kloppenmum says:

          Yes, I’m highly self-reflective too and passionate about working out what makes people tick. Have you had a look at the autobiography post or the stop fussing post? Those seem to be the two people have found most useful thus far.

          • kloppenmum says:

            And yes I used to use lots of ‘closed options’ as well…would you like this one or this one, but now I believe that while they work in the short-term – in the long term they’re adding to the likelihood of tantruming.

  2. I am not quite there.. I offer choices. Generally one or teh other. She sometimes chooses something else, adn i state clearly that is this or that- nothing else. You are right though, I am giving her way too much to have to think about.

  3. Your posts are wonderful! I so wish I had read them before my kids passed the age of “preventing” anything!

    • kloppenmum says:

      Thankyou. It’s always good to hear that other people are on the same wave length. Feel free to pass my blog details on to anyone you think would be interested. And thanks for commenting.

  4. Loi says:

    It’s funny but I recognise you description of La-La Land as one of the ‘higher states’ attainable in Buddhism – mindfulness. Conciousness of the present and only the present. Children are best known to be mindful for their ‘living in the present and in the moment’.
    I agree with the reduction of choices definitely, life can be so much simpler, equally, perhaps to do with my cultural heritage, as kids growing up we were never really given much choice, and went along with ‘whatever’. The reason/excuse was often, “Well when you’re grown up, you can decide.” I don’t parent this way all the time, but I never offer choices if I have already made up MY mind.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Yes, I think La-La land s a similiar state to mindfulness in Buddhism. Aren’t children so lucky to be able attain it with ease? Certainly, just handing our children their breakfast makes for easier days than when we dither around with choices, even between two healthy options!

  5. Pipi says:

    I let my 21 mo son to be spontaneous all the time, and he rarely showed tantrums. I never realize the connection behind it. Of course, there are some points that I dictate him to do, but mainly it’s about self cleanliness and avoidance of dangerous stuffs.

    I always trust the “listen to your kids, if you want to have them listen to you” principle, because kids are amazing imitators. If they throw a tantrum, something’s wrong and most of the time it’s because they demand our attention, which means that we’re not giving them enough of it.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Children are amazing imitators, and I always try to stop what I’m doing and really concentrate when our children are speaking to me…you’re right, a tantrum does mean something is wrong. Apart from toddlers who don’t always understand the consequences of what they want.

  6. Marcy says:

    My child just today had a panic about what to wear, and had every one of her dresses on the floor…

    • So that’s when I would hand her a dress and say, “Wear this one, let me help you put it on.” Yes, she might fuss and bother the first time, but she the fuss times will become less the fewer of these kinds of decisions she has to make.
      If our kids can’t manage to make the decision for themselves (and one of ours is nine) I usually say before hand (but not always), “Make the decision or I will make it for you.”

      • Marcy says:

        I’ve done that before — it’s helpful. This thing of all the dresses on the floor hasn’t happened before today; it was sweet and funny and sad.

        • So you do know what works :), it’s just that conscious remembering to do it! I do that all the time and then kick myself afterwards. Try it again, I’m certain it will help.

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