Issy, known to her young family, and her Instagram followers as Mummy Scrummie is a Hampshire-based mum of two and brand rep for Catkin Toys. Every Sunday, Issy will be writing a guest blog feature, covering the parenting topics and issues that interest you! Have a topic you'd like to hear more about? Get in touch!
Festive Meltdowns: How To Deal with Temper Tantrums Over the Christmas Period
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
Well, that’s as may be; it certainly doesn’t feel like it come 11am on Christmas morning, as you find yourself tearing out the few strands of hair you still have left post-pregnancy, because the turkey needs turning, the cat’s eaten a gift-tag and someone that only comes up to your kneecaps has decided to have a mega meltdown.
Toddler tantrums rile even the most zen of parents, but add into the mix the pressure we put on ourselves (and our children) to have a magical, Hallmark card, family Christmas, and a pint-sized person’s strop feels ten times harder to manage and all the more overwhelming.
So, this week I’m going to talk you through a few strategies on how to manage those tantrums and meltdowns and what you can do to try and avoid them in the first place.
Firstly, I think it’s important to take a moment to remind yourself that tantrums are a totally normal part of a child’s development. Despite the fact that every single time your child throws a tantrum you manage to convince yourself that (a.) they are the most horrible child ever and (b.) that you are the worst parent ever.
Thankfully, neither conviction is true. On the child’s side of things: tantrums are purely their most effective way of articulating that they are angry about something; they’re tired; hungry, haven’t got what they wanted; they’re scared, worried or just feeling ignored. On the parental side: we need to remember that as mothers and fathers, we are biologically programmed to respond emotively to the distress calls of our children; you are allowed to feel that someone screaming their head off at you is an incredibly stressful experience: IT IS!
When I’m dealing with a tantrum, I try to remember a few of the things my mother taught me when I was a new mum. I pass them on to you now in the hope that they might help keep you, if not as cool as a cucumber, trusting in your ability to handle whatever your small person (sometimes, literally) decides to throw at you.
WHAT ARE THEY UPSET ABOUT?
Whenever my two decide to throw a tantrum, give in to a midday meltdown or generally just start screaming the place down, the first thing I try to do is to work out what they’re upset about.
Whether your small person is five months or five years old, I find that the same rule applies across the board: approach them in the same way you would someone speaking a foreign language you didn’t understand. Using short sentences of a few words, accompanied by hand gestures and body language clues, ask them how you can help.
“You look sad. Can I help?”
“Is it sore? Where is it sore?”
“You seem cross. Take a breath.”
“Would you like a hug?”
Communicate simply and calmly and they will, hopefully, begin to mirror this behaviour.
Here, the key is showing them that you understand why they are upset (note that this is different from agreeing with them!) If they feel you understand, they’re much more likely to ditch the screaming and talk to you in a calm way, which is much more pleasant for everyone involved!
THE DISTRACTION TECHNIQUE
If the hoped outcome of the child's tantrum is something that you’re not willing to negotiate on or agree to (going to Disneyland instead of the supermarket; going home with the random man in the Post Office queue as opposed to getting back into the car with you, this sort of thing...) then, because children have relatively short attention spans, I find the distraction technique invaluable.
Sometimes this means notching up your amateur dramatics skills and feigning absolute astonishment at something completely unextraordinary (“Oh my goodness, look! A CAT!!”or “LOOK at our snowman!!”) but at other times, it’s just a question of listening to what your small person is saying before promptly switching tack, or shifting the focus of the conversation. For example:
“But I want to go to Mickey Mouse’s house!” could be answered with:
“Yes, me too! That would be lovely, wouldn’t it? What’s your favourite thing about Mickey’s house?”
But equally, you could try:
“I can understand that; Mickey’s house is fun. Do you know what else is fun? Supermarket Sweep: can you be in charge of the shopping list: the first thing we have to find is potatoes: ten points if you can spot the potatoes!”
You get the idea!
KEEP CALM, TAKE A BREATH; STAND YOUR GROUND
If neither of the above tactics are having any effect on your screaming spawn, then it’s time for both of you to take a moment to breathe. If you have to stand in the middle of Tesco taking ten slow, deep breaths, in order to avoid running out of the store, cackling madly as you abandon your child to the care of the friendly lady on the checkout, then that’s what you do. And get your child to do it too.
If your pint-sized person doesn’t have the vocabulary yet to understand the word “breathe”, you could use the same phraseology I have always used with my little girl (now 4), by saying: “Sniff. And blow.” I make Little Miss “sniff” in and slowly “blow” out five times, and she has to count each of the five breaths on one hand. Doing this gives them, and you, a chance to – literally – take a breather and caaaalm dowwwwn.
Now, hopefully feeling a tad calmer: stand your ground and don’t give in; if you buckle at this point, your child will expect to get their way the next time they work themselves into a frenzy. You are the adult in this situation. You are in charge. That doesn’t mean you have to go all Miss Trunchbull on your kid, but do try to remember that you have your rules for a reason: you are not being unfair, or cruel or unkind; you’re just being a parent and – like millions of parents before you, and millions of parents yet to be, you are dealing with a tantrum; it will pass and be over before you know it.
So, how can you apply all this to the Christmas holidays and managing those festive fits of fury?
· Keep to your normal routine as much as possible. Where you can, keep mealtimes in the same ballpark timeslot; keep up your Teeth, Toilet, Bath, Book, Bed transition. These landmark points in your child’s day help them to feel as if they have a grasp on what is happening, even in unfamiliar situations.
· Don’t overwhelm your little one, a big pile of presents to open will only exhaust them and can very easily snowball (see what I did there?) into a terrible, tired tantrum. So, space out present opening: open some on Christmas Day and some in the days following it: children respond well to being given the time to process it all!
· Serve your child’s Christmas lunch on their usual plate (or one that you’ve both previously agreed on), let them sit where they normally do and don’t be precious about it! If their Peppa Pig plate doesn’t match your Scandi-print festive tableware, or if they’ve not stuck to your seating plan, does it matter? Does it chuff!
· If you need to adjust your normal home layout for Christmas, get your little one to ‘help’ and have a say in where things go; then, to their mind, they’ve had some involvement in it and it’s not a big, confusing rearrangement of their home.
· Keep background noise to a minimum: music or television that is too loud is a sure-fire tantrum trigger for wee ones.
· Don’t choose Christmas Day as the time to introduce your child to loads of different members of your family and friends. Again, keep it simple. Have people your child knows and is comfortable with celebrate with you. Remember that, to you child, lots of new people just looks like you’ve invited a bunch of random strangers in to touch all their things!
· Don’t do it all. Unless you are actually Mary Poppins (in which case: Hi, I love you), you cannot do it all by yourself. Ask for help and delegate. Pick and choose what is really important to you about the holiday, and what can be dispensed with. Don’t feel pressure to do what “everyone else” is doing; do what works for you. That way, you won’t get totally frazzled, your children won’t be stressed out, and nobody has to listen to ‘Shouty Mummy’ on Christmas morning.
· Plan ahead. If you’re going out or visiting somewhere that isn’t as child-friendly as your home, bring toys, books, colouring, playdough, their cuddly toy; a playmat*: whatever is going to entertain and relax your child. Pack plug socket covers, a blackout blind, a change of clothes, your child’s crockery, snacks, a blanket/sleeping bag/moses basket/travel cot. Yes, you will feel like you’ve packed enough to support a small army, but you will be prepared.
*If you don’t already have one of these Play & Go storage bag/play mats you have, have, HAVE to get one, ours has been a total lifesaver when it comes to being on the go with small people: it comes with us everywhere: Grandad’s house, the beach, picnics in the park: it’s quick, easy and washable, the mother’s holy trinity.
· If in doubt: wrap up and get some fresh air. Go for a walk; let them play in the garden; go to the playground; feed the ducks; stroll the beach; nip to the shops; it doesn’t have to be a hike up Snowdon, but a quick blast of fresh air is the perfect cure-all for pent-up Christmas angst. Even if you’ve got a teeny tiny newborn on your hands, you’ll both feel better for getting outside, seeing some sky and feeling the wind on your face.
And remember to Carry On Parenting. No, that’s not a lesser-known (much less glamourous) film in the classic comedy canon, it’s the mantra I mutter to myself when I find myself sat on my kitchen floor, trying to explain to a screaming four year why posting her baby brother through the cat flap wasn’t a good idea.
Yes, it’s Christmas, but your best line of defence against tantrums is to carry on doing everything you normally do when it comes to parenting your child, regardless of where you are, who’s house you’re at and what changes you might’ve made to your normal routine:
Praise good behaviour
Give your child attention
Keep offering them choices (“Are you going to have an apple or a banana?”; “Are you going to play with this toy or that toy?” “Are you going to hold my hand or Grandma’s hand?”)
Where you can, ‘say yes’, don’t be the parent that says “No, no, NO!”
and remember that you are not the only parent dealing with difficult behaviour AND that, come bedtime, you can sit back, relax and have a glass of mulled wine before falling asleep on the sofa!
And that’s it – that’s me piping up with my two penn’orth on managing your little one’s temper tantrums this Christmas!
Got any top tips? Need more advice? Sing out and get in touch with me over on Instagram (you’ll find me @mummyscrummie) or alternatively you can message the lovely Kimberley @catkintoys! We’d love to hear from you!
Until next weekend! X