10 Ways to Stop a (Grown Up!) Temper Tantrum

Tantrums aren’t just for kids — parents are prone to them too.

If you’ve ever had a long day, felt overtired, over-hungry, just over it and on the verge of a meltdown, these tips are for you.

Dealing with the ups and downs that naturally come with all children can be challenging, regardless of what kind of day we’re having. But it’s particularly difficult when we’re feeling drained and like we just can’t parent peacefully anymore.

Related: Dear Moms of Toddlers: It Gets Better

It’s also our job to model healthy responses to tough situations, and throwing an adult tantrum is not only scary for our little ones, it fails to model appropriate responses to frustrating circumstances.

So often parents want respect and self-control from children, but where can they learn it if not from us? It’s hard, but worth the challenge to respond to feelings of being overwhelmed, overworked, and overtired with a bit of grace and compassion.

Here are some tips to tame your grow-up tantrum before it’s too late:

  • Take a breath. It’s hard to do in the moment, but it can make all the difference. Taking a breath before you respond can help you remember your parenting goals, rather than acting on impulse.
  • Count to ten. The old classic is a go-to for a reason. It works! Taking a moment to count to ten helps decrease the adrenaline response and think rationally about how you want to respond.
  • Place your hand over your heart. This is a grounding, connecting act that can remind you to react from a place of love instead of adrenaline.
  • Fake a smile. I don’t advocate for hiding emotions from children; it is important for kids to learn how to handle intense emotions in a healthy way. But if it’s a choice between an adult tantrum or faking a smile, fake the smile. When everyone is hungry and no one is listening to me and it would be easy to yell “EVERYBODY OUT OF THE KITCHEN,” I take a deep breath, put on a smile, and pretend I’m a Sunday school teacher with the sweetness of Mary Poppins herself. Research shows that faking a smile can actually help improve your mood.
  • Get a healthy snack. I don’t know about you, but my “hungry” turns “hangry” (hungry + angry) pretty quickly. My worst time of the day is definitely dinner time: we’ve had a long day, everyone is hungry, and I’m trying to get food together while answering endless questions and working through the clutter and clamor of childhood. Eating a quick bite of something nourishing can help so much!
  • Engage in regular preventative self-care. Many of us parents know that the best way to deal with tough-but-normal kid behavior is preventative. Always bring snacks along in case kiddo gets hungry. Always give a few warnings before it’s time to leave to avoid meltdowns. Anticipate nap time and plan errands around it. The same goes for us as adults, but in different ways. Try to be well-rested. Take quiet time whenever possible; a few moments of peace and silence can help so much. Recognize which situations trigger you, and avoid them or aim to find a solution that can help decrease stress. If your child has meltdowns when it’s time to leave the park, anticipate this and challenge yourself to express compassion towards your child’s disappointment (“I know you are frustrated and sad that we have to leave”), rather than engaging in a battle to control that disappointment (“Stop crying right now or xyz punishment”).
  • Stop yourself at Level 5. If our patience level can be rated on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being our tipping point, we need to stop ourselves and change the situation somewhere around 5. Preventing the parental meltdown is essential. When you feel your temper rising, change the situation. Take a breather if you can, leave the room for a minute, take some time to yourself, repeat a peaceful parenting mantra, call for back-up. Do what you have to do to de-escalate the situation before it reaches the point of no return.
  • Recognize physical symptoms of an encroaching tantrum. Pay attention next time you’re on the verge of a tantrum. Do you feel hot? Can you feel your cheeks flush? Do you start to clench your jaw or your fists? Check in on these feelings and back away from them. When you notice these physical sensations, use your go-to method for calming down.
  • Treat yourself well. You can’t fill someone else’s cup when yours is empty, so stay on track with self-care. If you like massages, arrange to get one monthly. If you like to create, make time for art. If you like to dance, take a class or go dancing with friends. Don’t feel like time for yourself has to be “girls night out;” sometimes it’s a nice break and other times it’s just as exhausting as parenting. Quiet time alone can help reset our mood and patience. Even if it’s brief, make the time to do things for yourself. Motherhood burnout is real, and self-care is a great way to avoid it.

Every parent knows what it’s like to reach their breaking point, and we’re all familiar with the regret that comes soon after an adult tantrum. Here’s what to do if you do freak out:

  • Apologize. This is a powerful one. Kids need to see us make mistakes and recover gracefully. Kids need to know that emotions are powerful, and no one is perfect, but we’re sorry for losing our patience.
  • Recognize the hypocrisy. Children pick up on it, so we might as well be honest about it: we are hypocrites for yelling when we tell our children not to yell, for using a disrespectful tone when we ask for respect, for not modeling emotional intelligence in general. Admit it and use it as a teaching moment.
  • Hug. If your child is a hugger, reconnect by showing affection.
  • Try again. Once you’ve admitted that your tone or words or actions were wrong, rehearse with your child a better way to go about it. You deserve a second chance, and you can use this moment to teach the kids what you wish you would have done instead.
  • Forgive yourself. You’re not a bad mom for having a tantrum. You’re a good mom who is having a bad day. Forgive yourself and move on.

How do you prevent grown-up tantrums, and how do you recover in the aftermath?

Image via Demi-Brooke

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