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Teaching Emotional Intelligence during a 4-year old temper tantrum

We’ve seen it – the inevitable right of passage as a parent, navigating a temper tantrum. Sure there’s time-outs, go to your room, counting, ignoring, the controversial spanking, and many other ways to handle such situations.

Every parenting decision to navigate these tricky waters is unique. I’m not one to judge, rather experiment (with the intention on finding the optimal results). So here’s food for thought based on tonight’s interaction:

It’s the dinner-time crazies part of the day, kids are rambunctious, grown-ups are transitioning from day to evening (in my case, walking from my home office to the kitchen) and I try to cook a nutritious dinner and seek help to minimize the work-load.

Getting dinner on the table wasn’t too dramatic, asking for assistance clearing the table was a different story. I sternly lay the boundary: “I’m not asking again to help to clear the dishes, if you choose to horse-around instead, you are choosing to get ready for bed and will need to go upstairs NOW.”

So my four year old neglects to follow my instructions and attempts to ride his biggest brother like a horse. I immediately stop what I’m doing and take the offender upstairs by nearly dragging him by his arms while he is kicking and literally screaming at the top of his lungs.

After a lot of screaming, jumping, and demanding I somewhat have an out of body experience allowing me to observe the situation instead of being drawn into it like a voracious black hole. Somehow I’m reminded by the memory of one of my favorite books “take nothing personally and let go of the expectation of specific results.” It is in this moment I can be truly present for my child while he’s so angry. I echo his emotional state into words he cannot find: “You are very mad, upset, and frustrated.” Mind you, he’s still screaming and these statements seem to whiz past him like a snowflake in the desert.

I do pause to hug him and tell him I love him and tell him I’m sorry his choices lead him to this situation. I also reiterate I cannot allow him to go downstairs, otherwise, I’ll be a liar (going against my own boundary). Don’t get me wrong, the temptation to enter into being furious at his persistent scream is looming, but I continue to remind my internal dialogue to observe, and not get sucked in.

After what seems like hours, he remains in a state of being out of control and a flash of brilliance pops to mind. This energy needs to GO somewhere. We proceed to pick out one of his toughest “friends” (stuffed animals). I encourage him to throw the bear to the ground, in the air, stomping on him, hitting him, and all the while reassuring him the bear is tough and can take it. As if by magic the anger dissipates and is soon replaced by laughter. All of a sudden my four year old returns while the Tasmanian devil retreats and he announces: I’m going to start getting ready for bed.

I conclude: “Great decision!” Give lots of hugs and kisses and getting the rest of the way to bed was a snap.

This was about maintaining my boundaries but not FORCING my will, allowing him to come to the conclusion of the best choice while coaching him on how to move past the big feelings. As he went to bed he gave his bear a big hug and told that “friend” and me he loved us and happily rolled over to sleep.