Why is it so hard to stay calm – ourselves – during a child’s tantrum? There must be something super tricky happening if we put our mind to something but still struggle to do it. So let’s explore this from a place of curiosity, not self-judgment or self-blame. Curiosity about ourselves is the only way we can learn, and learning is the only way we can change.

I think that most parents struggle to stay calm in the face of a child’s tantrum because a child’s dysregulation brings up *their own* self-blame feelings. We all only struggle to regulate if *our own body* is doing something uncomfortable.  A child’s tantrum, in this model, is a pawn in the game; the real game is happening inside of us.

For many parents, a child’s tantrum evokes an “I’m not doing this parenting thing right” feeling and thought.

An important thing to know about blame is that external blame is always paired with internal blame: if we think things like “Whats wrong with my kid?” then we are also thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” That is such a painful thought that we seek to shut down our child’s tantrum in an attempt to shut off our own distress.

When I work with families who have kids who are chronically acting out, I tell them that the single most important thing for this child is for them, the parents, to constantly reflect this idea: “You are a good kid having a hard time.  I see your goodness under your struggles.”

And to do that, we must start with ourselves: “I am a good parent having a hard time. I see my goodness under my struggles.” We have to work on our internal relationships (ie how we talk to ourselves) before we can meaningfully work on our external relationships (ie, with our kids, partner, etc).

Try This At Home:

Tell yourself now, when things are calm without a tantrum: “Nothing is wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with my child. I can cope with this.” Practice saying this to yourself throughout the week, when things are calm, so you’re building up your familiarity with this compassionate self-talk and increase the likelihood of your body being able to access it when things get more heated in the midst of a child meltdown.

See if you can practice incorporating this thought; it’ll probably do more to help you stay calm during a tantrum than any other parenting strategy.

Some ideas:

  • Write down this mantra and put it somewhere visible – maybe by your bedside table or bathroom mirror or near your shower. Somewhere you’ll “run into it” every day.

  • Set a reminder with an alarm, on your phone, for the top of every hour with this mantra.

  • Look into the mirror once daily and say this mantra 5 times in a row. Yes, it would be normal if you started to cry as you do this. Showing ourselves compassion and good-enough-ness can bring tears if these messages feel new compared to how we usually talk to ourselves.