Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing

The most challenging aspect of using The Happiest Toddler on the Block might be the need to use just enough emotion and emphasis when stating their issues back to them (the Fast Food Rule), but then modeling a cool, calm and rational state in your reply when you are tired and frustrated by a full day of toddler drama.  This is a very Zen concept, the “cloak” of calmness that you wrap around your interaction with a whiny or defiant child.  It is absolutely essential to the success of this approach.

This is not easy.  Toddlers have staying power.  Here is what it looks like:

Adult:  “It’s lunch time.  Come on over and sit in your seat.”

Child:  Want cookies!!!!! [whiny shout, banging on cabinet storing said cookies]

Adult:  “You want cookies now, no lunch, just cookies!!” Remember the 1/3 level of mirroring their delivery.  Rinse and repeat until you see him take a breath, shoulders drop, etc.  This is the start of the “Fast Food Rule” of Happiest Toddler on the Block.

Child:  “Yeah” [ quieter whine, lots of eye contact, head nodding]

Adult:  “Oh, wow.[insert pause with disappointed look]  But it is lunch time. [another pause and sympathetic look] You have a yummy ______all ready, and then it will be time for ( # ) cookies after you finish your _______.”  [insert optimistic smile, as if you get the cookies too!]  Rinse and repeat if needed, but many if not most kids will be able to come to the table.  They may not be cheerful, but they know that you have limits, and they know you will deliver the cookies.  If they are eating and interacting with you, reward them with your pleasant conversation and plans of fun to come.

Why would anyone go to so much effort to stay calm, instead of just saying “Cut that out right now!”?  Because we are in this for the long haul.  Because the job of adults is not just to keep kids alive and safe all day, but to teach them how to manage their emotions and their behavior.  Because we are supposed to be the adults, capable of managing our emotions and planning our responses, not just lashing out.  And because we are investing in the relationship, knowing that a child that has seen you set consistent limits but also knows you do not shame, threaten, insult, or beg them to behave is more likely to listen to what you have to say.  When the conflict comes, as it always will, calmly stating the limits and acknowledging their viewpoint is like withdrawing money from a bank account.

The Fast Food Rule is just step one.

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