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The boy who shows an angry emotion, the concept of emotion of a violent child

Taming the tantrums: The most important question to ask during your toddler’s meltdown

I’ve been in training for almost 22 years now. While my oldest is nearly 21 he was relatively easeful as a toddler, and my now 18 year old daughter was simply a breeze from day one.  However, my now 15 year old daughter was a challenge from the moment she was born and very skilled at tantrums. I would say she was an expert.

And me, I was desperate. I spent the first 5 years of her life reading all the books and listening to the expert advice to learn how to control her so that the tantrums would stop.  And this was my first mistake.

I grew up in a real estate family. My dad always told me the number one rule in real estate is Location Location Location. And it turns out the same applies to parenting. If you cannot reliably and accurately locate yourself in any given moment you are at risk for colluding in the inevitable drama that comes with toddlers and raising little ones.

The single most important question you can ask yourself as a parent when your kids are tantruming is:

Where am I?

Being able to accurately and reliably locate yourself -meaning know what is happening in YOU – while your child melts down is the key to transforming the experience for you both.

HOW do we locate ourselves?  This is where mindfulness comes in. Here are four simple steps to accurately locate yourself.

1. Stop, Drop and Breathe.

(Ok, no need to drop!)  But stop and simply take 3-4 deep cleansing breaths.  I know you’ve heard this many times before and I want to clarify.  Breathing is not the solution. It is merely the first step. When our kids melt down, we often feel out of control and go into fear. The only thing we can focus on is getting them to STOP IT! When we pause and breath we are calming the nervous system down and creating space in the fear brain to get truly present so we can think more clearly. And bonus, when we calm down we activate the mirror neurons in our children’s brain so they can have a model for what calming oneself looks and FEELS like.

2. Notice the sensations in and on your body.

E-motions are energies in motion in and on the body.  When we pay close attention to our body it can give us loads of great information. When we are in fear, we get constricted. Notice where in your body you are constricted and gather information about yourself.  If your jaw is tight and fists clenched, you are likely feeling anger. Likewise, if your belly is turning upside down, you are likely afraid. Noticing what is truly occurring in our experience is the key to transformation.

3. Name it.

Once you identify your constriction, name the emotion. Fear, Anger, Joy, Sadness or Creative feelings are the 5 core feelings to focus on.

4. Next Thought.

Pay attention to your thoughts as they drive your actions and behaviors. If your thought is, “I can’t deal with this right now!!!!”  You will inevitably do everything in your power to try and stop the behavior. In other words you will get into control mode.

When we take these 4 simple steps we become present.

What our children need from us more than anything is our full presence. Being present means being in constant creative response to whatever is occurring. When we are aware and present to our own experience we can accept what is occurring and choose our reactions consciously or mindfully. There is no one right answer to taming a tantrum. Every moment is uniquely different. When our children are tantruming it is a result of unmet need that they are not emotionally mature enough to express. Getting to that unmet need and responding to that is what we are shooting for.

Our job is to create a safe space for them to get in touch with what is really going on for them. We cannot create that space if we are triggered and trying to control them. Instead, if we calm ourselves down, we can be available to be the safe space for our kids to feel what is underneath the tantrum and teach them how to ask for their needs to get met. When we do this, we empower our kids and teach them valuable life skills to last a lifetime!


Annmarie Chereso

Guest contributor: Annmarie Chereso, BringIt! Home

Author, mindfulness expert, and life and leadership coach, Annmarie Chereso has been coaching parents, educators and students in Chicago schools and beyond for over a decade. Annmarie is devoted to teaching the next generation of leaders how to live and lead mindfully. Annmarie founded BringIt! Home to support young people and the adults in their lives to develop self awareness and grow into conscious leaders.