The most effective tool for staving off a tantrum? No, it isn't YouTube Kids as a distraction, or ice cream as a bribery offer, or a shower as a place to lock yourself in until the wails of "But I wanted to eat my soup with chopsticks!" subside. Instead, to help your kid get a handle on his emotions in the middle of a meltdown, you may just need a pen and some paper.
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In her book It's OK Not to Share, early childhood expert Heather Shumaker writes that temper tantrums are a perfect time to have your child write a letter to whomever or whatever they're having big feelings about. If they don't yet know how to write, no problem - you can pen their words as they dictate them. What's important is that they get their emotions out of their heads and onto a page that they can see and touch and hold. Why it works: "Writing makes a child feel valued and listened to, and often that's more important to her than getting her way," Shumaker explains.
I've tried the technique on a few occasions with my five-year-old daughter, and it has been helpful. She would tell me why she was mad at me, and I'd write down her complaint, word for word, with no additional Mum-commentary. (Keeping your defences out of it can be tough, but it's important. At this point, you're simply allowing your child to be heard.) The last letter my kid dictated said, "Dear Mum, I am mad that you did not let me play longer." She signed her name at the bottom, and that was that.
Sleep habits. Fertility. Steps per day. Water consumption. There's a tracker for that - all of that. So it probably shouldn't have surprised me to read Dr Catherine Pearlman's advice for struggling parents, and yet it kind of blew my mind. When you're trying to change your child's behaviour and you're not sure if what you're doing is working, she suggests collecting some data and analysing it.
Shumaker writes that you might have to start the letter for the kid. "Dear Daddy, I am so angry" - and then let them take it from there. The idea is not to give into whatever they wanted - a doughnut before dinner, that cool robot toy they just saw at the store, an extra show when it's bedtime - but to help them express their feelings. They will feel better afterwards, just like adults do when they write rage-filled letters that they may or may not ever send.
From there, once the child has calmed down, you can help him solve any problem that needs solving, or simply move on. Kids learn that writing something down doesn't magically make something happen, but it does offer an emotional release, and often, that is enough.