Tantrum Prevention: Some Important Hints

So, some of us are heading out of the summer holidays and into the routine of school.

One of the most difficult conflicts in modern life seems to be the whole hurry-up-and-wait dilemma that many of us face on a daily basis. For example, we might rush to get organised and in the car on time, only to sit in traffic for tens of minutes or even hours. Needing to be places, on time, is stressful for us as adults – for children it can be completely overwhelming. And the younger the child, the more overwhelming it can be.

Rushing is in direct conflict with a healthy childhood.

The brains of children are wired in a less permanent manner than adults. Their connections are like straws rather than tunnels or, rather, like cotton thread not thick marine-rope. They can’t just change their focus from this to that, as we can/would like them to/need them to. They have to go through a very slow and definite process in order to focus on what we need them to focus on; even children as old as 10 or 12 still can’t easily and quickly change the direction of their thoughts, especially when we are asking them to complete the mundane and less than ordinary tasks of daily life.

The process goes something like this (example):

1. They have to become consciously aware of the need to brush their teeth or manage to keep themselves conscious of that need until the task is completed. 

2. They have to choose to disengage with whatever it is that already holds their attention.

3. They have to choose to focus on the need to brush their teeth.

4. They have to move their body in the direction of the bathroom and organise everything they need to brush their teeth.

5. They have to complete the task to a satisfactory standard and return all equipment to an appropriate place without becoming distracted by their more interesting thoughts.

The key hints for getting through these tasks are as follows:

A. Give yourself as much time as you can and more than you think you need. If possible get completely, or nearly completely, organised yourself before you have to help other people.

If you have to wake children, do so at a time when you know they have enough time to do what they need to do. Allow 5 minutes per task, even if those tasks are miniscule, plus five or 10 minutes. (Get dressed; brush teeth; put bedclothes away; put on shoes and socks; put lunchbox in bag; feed the cat; make the bed; get into the car; 5 minutes = 45 minutes before you need to leave.)

B. Keep children older than seven years-old conscious of what needs to be done by using a check-sheet system or a reward/punishment system. Keep electronics out of bounds until all is done.

Whatever your philosophy is, is fine. At this stage of the process, it’s not about hurting, rewarding or teaching our children to be robots – it’s about giving them ways to stay conscious of what needs to be done until it’s all done.  Also, it’s a rare child who isn’t easily drawn into the dream world of electronics and out of the conscious world of chores.

B2. Help any child younger than seven to do what needs to be done, if they ask for help or seem unable to focus. Often their sudden inability to get dressed or organised is about feeling overwhelmed about their tasks and they are actually asking us for emotional connection.

Trust me: helping your six year-olds to get dressed, when asked to, can prevent untold tantrums and there is no way they will ask you to help you dress them when they are nine! This is about them checking in with us and feeling safe, not about our agenda.

C. Gain their full attention BEFORE giving or reminding them of an instruction. You will probably have to stop what you are doing and get close to them. You don’t need to be intrusive just physically nearby so they are conscious of your presence.

I know you may have repeated the instruction more than once, but if you have used more than 10 words they have stopped listening to you. If you are increasing your volume, it means nothing to them…if you have ever been fully engaged in a book or other task, you know what brain state they are in – completely immersed in their own world not yours.

body language

D. Move them physically (gently) in the direction they need to go. Just turning the shoulders of small people,, and increasing the pressure on them, can get them to head in the correct general direction.

It’s not commonly known that our bodies lead our brain far more than our brains lead our bodies. Once our body is going in the correct direction, the brain clicks in.

E. Automate as much as you can. The more often you do the same things, the more likely your children will automatically do what needs to be done. Rituals. Rhythms. Routines.

A good habit is an ingrained brain pattern; a bad habit is too. The more often we ask our children to do the same things, the larger the associated brain connections and the less conscious thought has to be involved. The less conscious thought involved in the task the easier it becomes and the more likely it’s done without parental input.

F. Ensure tasks are completed 100%. Even a toddler can put their things in the laundry basket with no bits hanging out. Fewer tasks done well, works with the brain – compared to – lots of tasks done poorly.

The human brain loves beginnings, middles and ends – if we don’t give our children a time of ending (proper completion) with their chores, we rob them of the satisfaction of ahhhh and associated happy chemicals.

G. Say, “Thankyou.”

Praise makes their correct behaviour abnormal, unnatural and something they have to work at – they become externally focussed to know how they are going in life. Our thanks, makes their correct behaviour normal, natural and part of who they are – they can remain internally focussed and know they are ‘good’ people.

For more innovative and science based information on tantrums you could go and buy my book – All About Tantrums: Why we have them, How to prevent them, What to do when they happen. There’s the link riiiiiiiiight there:  https://www.createspace.com/3893965

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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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