Tantrum Relief — Meeting the 3 Basic Needs
The difference between the Language of Listening® approach to dealing with tantrums and that of most other programs is basically this: in a tantrum, others try to calm children down; we facilitate tantrums in a way that allows children to calm themselves down.
It all starts with the Three Basic Needs for Growth: experience, connection and power.
Here's how to meet those needs to facilitate a tantrum:
1. Meeting the Need for Power: Putting children in the lead is the quickest way to meet their need for power. For example, when I'm called in to work with a child in a tantrum, the first thing I do is approach the child while watching for any reaction to me. If the child glares at me or looks apprehensive, I back up. That simple step puts the child in the lead by letting him "tell me" where to stand and begins to meet his need for power in a way that is OK with me. When I meet that need first, angry outbursts immediately de-escalate to tears.
If a child tells you to go away, you can take a big, deliberate step back and take direction by saying, "Like this?" or something like "Where would you like me to go?" and the child will probably look up and point (connection on their terms). If they don't look up or answer, you can try once more with something like, "That must not have been far enough away. How about this? Did I get it right yet?" Children love to correct you when you are wrong, but either way their answer, yes or no, will be a good indicator of the remaining level of their need for power.
Meeting a child's need for power is often overlooked, but it is usually the primary need at the beginning of a tantrum because children feel powerless when they can't get what they want. That's why you help the child meet the need for power first. If the child is kicking the floor and that is OK with you, you can say things like, "That was a strong kick! Try that again! Wow, that one was even stronger!" If they change to pounding with their fists or pushing something away, you can continue to give a play-by-play like a radio announcer, knowing that their actions are the quickest way for them to meet their need for power.
If the child kicks, hits, pushes or starts to throw something that is not OK with you, you can intervene by quickly finding something that is OK with you while saying things like, "Oops! That's not OK with me," and "Try this instead!" or "You can do that over here!" Depending on what's needed to ensure the safety of the child and property, your intervention may involve pointing, moving them to a safe place, or handing them something to push or throw that's OK with you.
Kids innately know what works for them, and when their needs are met, they calm themselves down.
2. Meeting the Need for Connection: When the anger de-escalates to tears or sadness it's time to connect. Tears indicate a move toward acceptance of the boundary. They are like a pressure-relief valve that helps kids cope with something they don't like.
In the case of a child who has been told no about something, SAY WHAT YOU SEE matching their energy with your voice like, "You wanted to do that, and you're sad that it's not OK right now. Something about it must be important to you!" The lack of judgment or control in your statement and demeanor allows the child to tell you more. When you hear why that thing is important, you can validate it with a statement like, "Oh no! That was important! No wonder you wanted to do it (have it, etc.). That's so hard for you!"
Validating what a child wants when they can't have it may feel counter-intuitive, but it's VERY IMPORTANT. Without validating what the child wants, they will have no choice but to escalate their communication back up to the level of anger or tantrum to prove they are right to want it. Validation meets children's need for connection and allows them to move into the problem-solving step to find solutions that work for you both. If you try problem-solving without connecting first, it often backfires.
Validation by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE is actually the missing step in parenting.
3. Meeting the Need for Experience: When a child is ready to problem-solve, you can turn that over to him with the all purpose CAN DO statement: "There must be something you can do," or if you are open to negotiation, "Must be something we can do." Your job is to clarify what the child wants, decide if that's OK with you or not, and get on the child's side.
For example, if the child wants a snack and that's not OK with you now but would be later, you validate how much they like that snack, then say something like, "You really want it now, AND that's for after dinner. Hmm. Must be something you can do to wait." If the child says, "No, I can't wait. I want it now!" you start there by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE like, "Oh no! You can't wait, and I bet after dinner feels like a long time away! Must be something you can do to make sure you get your snack!"
To facilitate problem-solving, be sure not to contradict the child or focus on the boundary. Contradicting a child or focusing on the boundary of "not now" increase their need for power and build resistance.
Instead, focus on what the child wants and keep the conversation moving forward toward a solution that will work for you both.
If the child can't think of a solution, offer something tangible like, "Maybe I could put it somewhere that you can see it so you will know you will get it for sure after dinner." That makes the snack real which often makes it easier for a child to succeed in waiting. For a young child, who doesn't know they have patience, placing it out of reach is usually best. The goal is to help them succeed (Success Training). Then when they succeed, you name that STRENGTH, "You waited all the way through dinner. That shows patience!"
On certain occasions when no solution seems possible, as unlikely as it sounds, validating the child's frustration and granting their wish in fantasy can also help meet the need for experience.
For example when you are in the car and the child wants a snack "right now," SAYing WHAT YOU SEE like, "Oh no! There are no snacks in the car, and you want one right now! You're stomach is even growling! That's awful! You really wish you had one right now! No, two! No, a whole refrigerator right there in the back seat with you that you could open, and reach in and grab anything you wanted..." If you are right about the child's wish and have added enough details to make it feel real, the child will probably join in and expand on the fantasy or correct you and take off on a fantasy solution of their own. When you follow along and validate, the added connection prevents escalation.
4. After a Tantrum - Pointing Out STRENGTHs: Of course, after any tantrum or crying session, regardless how long it takes for the child to work through it, when the child is calm be sure to point out to them that they knew exactly what they needed to do to calm themselves down.
Connecting children with that STRENGTH is the goal of facilitating their tantrums in the first place, because it helps them see they have self-control.
There is a sample video at the bottom of the Online Training Center registration page (scroll down) where I explain how I facilitated my 2-year-old niece's angry actions to help her move from hitting to self-control in a very short time by reconnecting her with her STRENGTHs. It demonstrates how to find STRENGTHs even in a tantrum and why that is an important thing to do for our children.
The bottom line is that children who know they can control themselves and calm themselves, don't need you to do it for them. The confidence that comes from the validation of their wants, their ability to problem-solve, and their awareness of their STRENGTHs helps reverse the feeling of powerlessness that sets off tantrums in the first place. Less need for power, fewer tantrums!
What does your child tantrum about? How do your responses meet your child's needs?