How do I manage tantrums during the coronavirus pandemic?
Many parents are struggling to adapt right now, so it is no surprise that many children are having difficulty making adjustments after losing the predictability that they thrive on. Here are few things you might think about if your child has become more short-fused lately.
• Establish a strong foundation by creating a daily schedule and routine. No need to be overly perfectionistic, just schedule large blocks of time that are filled with different types of activities such as exercise/high energy activities, indoor (low energy) activities including screen time or quiet time, outdoor play, trips away from home to run essential errands, video-chatting with friends or relatives, and work or demands like schoolwork or chores. You can change the specific activities each day, but get your daughter accustomed to a daily rhythm and inform her of what’s ahead so she knows what to expect.
• Entrench her body clock with a consistent sleep-wake schedule and predictable meal/snack times. Start with a consistent morning wake time and immediate outdoor light exposure. This is the single most effective way to establish a daily rhythm because naptimes and mealtimes are often determined by the morning wake time. See “What should I prioritize in terms of my little one’s sleep and general schedule?” for additional tips on establishing and maintaining your child’s sleep-wake schedule. Younger children tend to require more consistency across weekdays and weekends.
• In extra-ordinary times like this, don’t be afraid to temporarily reduce the demands you place on your child, especially if those demands trigger tantrums. You’ll have plenty of time to address this behavior once the health crisis is behind us. If tantrums occur every time you say “no,” then press pause for a moment before responding. If there is a good chance you’ll switch your “no” to a “yes” in the face of an outburst, then give in early and grant the request while your child is still pleasant (that is, before the tantrum even starts if you can!). As long as what she wants isn’t dangerous, destructive, illegal, or immoral, simply saying “yes” may prevent you from giving in late during a full-blown, grand mal temper tantrum.
• When children are present, model and describe your own strategies of emotional self-control when presented with the frustrations or challenges many of us are facing right now. Name your own feelings and give labels and language to those feelings for your children in age-appropriate terms. Talk through how you are calming yourself down in a frustrating situation by doing something like taking a deep breath or a break, or how you “stop and think” before making a decision.
Guilt Free Discipline Once the Tantrum Starts:
• I found nothing in the CDC’s guidelines for managing a pandemic that instructs parents to immediately suspend setting and enforcing all behavioral limits for children. In fact, in these unpredictable times, our children need firm parental guidance now more than ever! If you need help establishing effective disciplinary strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to a behavioral health professional or ask your child’s primary care physician.