Our 5-year-old granddaughter has awful tantrums when we don't let her have what she wants. Her parents try to be firm, but she wears everyone out with her demands. Any advice?
Children have tantrums when they feel overwhelmed by big emotions like anger, fear or disappointment. One way of thinking about it is that your granddaughter gets thrown into a storm of powerful feelings, knocked around by waves that are simply too big for her to manage.
Here's my advice:
- Prevent problems by making sure your granddaughter is well-nourished and rested. Many times, we overestimate the capacity our little ones have to cope when they're running on empty. Children who are hungry or tired have fewer resources to draw upon when they feel frustrated or upset.
- Don't try to talk her out of her upset. Avoid delivering up reasons for why your granddaughter cannot have what she wants when she's unable to process your logical explanations because of her hurt or anger. The more you try to convince her not to feel what she feels, the less able you will be to help her settle down, find her tears and make peace with not getting her way.
- Diffuse the "storm" of her upset by helping her feel that you understand her frustrations. "You really wanted more cake! It doesn't seem fair that Grandma isn't letting you have another piece..." Often, when we narrate for our children what they are going through, they find it easier to have a good cry and move on.
- Avoid sending mixed messages. If her dramatic outbursts sometimes end up getting what she wants, she will naturally push as hard as she can when she isn't getting her way. Be gently firm when "no" has to mean "no," even if you fear it will produce one of her epic meltdowns.
- Look for other stressors in her life. Is she over-scheduled? Is there chronic tension at home? Is she having a hard time at school? Some children's tantrums are "announcements" that things in their life aren't working. Pay attention to other factors that may be triggering her meltdowns.
- Remain flexible. If you get the feeling that your granddaughter is tired or fussy and likely to have a meltdown if you run one more errand or take the family out to dinner, stay home and settle in for some quiet time. It is far better to avoid a tantrum than to deal with one once its full blown.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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