There will come a moment in your nanny career when a child will throw a tantrum and for a split second all you can think about is saving face. Tantrums draw unwanted attention to both you and the child. As you try to comfort the child all of a sudden the toddler’s arch of anger appears. At that moment rules of engagement are officially established. You have just entered the TANTRUM ZONE.
In your mind, SERENITY NOW! SERENITY NOW! echoes the voice of Kramer from the sit-com Seinfeld. All you want is to make the tantrum STOP…after all, people are watching. With nowhere to hide, you pledge allegiance to the caregiver mission and start negotiating.
It’s been twenty years since I dealt with an epic tantrum in my classroom. Olivia was upset that it was time to stop playing and settle down for a nap. She had a screaming fit that sounded like finger nails clawing on a chalkboard. It was gut wrenching to the ear. I knew if I didn’t stand my ground that this would possibly be a daily battle. She knew the routine but for whatever reason wanted to test the boundaries that day.
She was determined to show just how demanding she could be. She refused to lie on her cot and would not adhere to any of my verbal prompts. She rolled on the ground, kicked her legs and projected her screaming cry heard throughout the school. She had declared war. I continued patting the backs and attending to the needs of my other students ignoring her tantrum. Every few minutes I would ask Olivia if she was ready to take her nap yet. She would then take her screaming cry up another octave.
I wish I could report that Olivia stopped crying after a few minutes but she was a strong willed child who battled with me for fifteen minutes. She was determined to make me yield to her demands. I was just as determined and refused to abandon the fact that it was nap time. Eventually her screaming cry became a soft whimper. She finally decided it was okay to lie on the cot and cuddled up with her favorite blanket. I wiped away her tears and rubbed her back. She finally fell asleep.
Unfortunately, the way I handled the battle did not address the behavior. The only lesson she learned that day was I could tolerate her screaming. It was a LOSE LOSE situation for the both of us.
Fast forward – “how to teach a behavior to develop social skills. I suggest you use your own voice in the conversations below.
- Name the tantrum
“Olivia, I can see you are mad but that is not how we get my attention or how we ask for what we want. It’s not okay to throw a tantrum.”
- Acknowledge the child’s anger
“Olivia, I know you’re upset that you may not play longer. I see you are playing with the dolls. I can place the dolls up on the shelf and when nap time is over I will give you the doll to hold during snack.”
- Give the child a clear expectation of what behavior you want the child to demonstrate
“Olivia, it is my expectation that you lie on your cot. I know you are upset but it my expectation that you lie on your cot. I will give you until the count of 10 to be on the cot.
Okay Olivia here we go, I need you on the cot by the count of 10. 1 pause 2 pause 3 pause 4 pause….”
- Give the child a verbal prompt about voice tone and body language.
“Olivia it is clear that you are mad and upset with me. When you use your outside voice inside, I can’t understand you. Screaming makes it hard for me to hear you. It’s my expectation you will speak to me in your normal voice. I need you to use your words. I’m going to sit right next to your cot so you can talk to me quietly while you are lying down.”
Please note – most children who are upset tend to clinch their fist. I usually ask them to relax and open up their hands.
5. Each time the child follows your instruction say, “Thank You” and identify the instruction
“Olivia, thank you much for coming over to your cot. Thank you for lying down on your cot. You are earning time with your doll during snack. Thank you for opening your hands. I can see you are starting to relax now, thank Olivia.”
After the child calms down, take a few moments to find out what made the child so upset.
Giving a child an opportunity to speak and express why they are angry is a stepping stone towards a child who can self regulate their anger. Allow them to speak without interrupting them. Give them your full attention. Avoid looking at your phone or trying to multi-tasking at this moment. Remember we have to teach to the behavior in order to see a change. End your dialogue by telling them you love them.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what not to during a tantrum so here a 5 more tips to remember:
5 Things to avoid during a tantrum
- Avoid the power struggle to prove you are the adult and he/she is the child
- Don’t personalize the behavior. The tantrum has nothing to do with you it’s the child expressing his anger
- Avoid calling the child any names like “You are acting like a cry baby”
- Mimicking the behavior to prove how silly they look
- Bribing a child with a reward or incentive if they stop the behavior
FINALLY REWARD YOURSELF
Once the child is calm and following instructions again, Give yourself a five minute self care break. Rather you go make yourself a cup of coffee or have a dance party to your favorite song. You need to give yourself 5 minutes to take some deep breaths and regroup. Working through a tantrum is a lot of work. It can be exhausting. But if you are consistent in your approach there will be a decrease in the tantrums and a quicker recovery time.
Now it’s your turn – what are some ways you handle a child during a tantrum?