Sammy, Jane, and Laura are all sharing a story of an event they each had with their toddler at the grocery store. All their stories start the same way but have a very different ending.

“I was at the grocery store with my toddler. As we were going through the aisles she saw a box of her favorite cookies and ran over to get them and put it in the cart. I had caught her the day before eating the last of the cookies we had at home, and right before dinner, and told her that we were not going to be able to buy these anymore because she keeps eating a lot of them at once and had already spoiled her dinner more than once before by doing so. So I stayed strong on my word and let her know that she couldn’t take the cookies as I removed them from the cart. She responded with a whine, asking me to please take them and after I told her “no” several times she broke into a full on temper tantrum.

Jane continues her story, “I told her that if she didn’t stop her tantrum and started listening to mommy, she was not going to be able to have any sweets for a whole month.”

Sammy continues her story, “I knelt down beside her and told her that I knew how she felt, that those cookies are really good and I could eat a whole box of them myself, but that because I love her I want her to be healthy, which means not eating too much sugar which hurts her body.”

Laura continues her story, “I told her to stop her tantrum and after she didn’t listen, I gave her a spanking.”

So who took the best approach to this situation? Being honest with yourself, which approach best fits what you would do? This is one of the many challenges we face as parents.

When our kids break into a tantrum, the lower level of their brain, the emotional part, is fully engaged. There is no logic at this point. What you want to do is try to get the upper level of the brain to take control, the logical part. When we respond with a threat, as Jane did, this is only going to trigger more emotions and will not give opportunity for any logic in her daughter to kick in. This is not saying that there shouldn’t be any consequences for their bad choices, but laying those out during a temper tantrum is usually not going to stop it or makes things better. Also, the consequence should be something that you can keep your word on and should not be communicated in a form of a thread. For example, instead of saying, "You will not have any sweets for a week!", you can instead say, "If you can show me for a week that you've learned to ask permission to before getting sweets, we can start buying sweets again.

If we take Laura’s approach, spanking her daughter, this one is a very controversial one and I’m in no position to say if it’s right or wrong, only to share what I’ve learned through my own experiences and readings. There’s a good chance that Laura’s approach was the fastest way to stop the tantrum, but the concern here is why her daughter stopped. She didn’t stop because she learned why it’s wrong to eat too much sugar or why she should ask permission before getting a snack. What she learned is that she should stop her tantrums and listen to mommy to avoid being spanked, to avoid physical pain.

Now let’s take a look at Sammy’s approach. Even if you thought this was the best approach when you read it, chances are it’s a challenge to do it yourself when in the same situation. The reason being is because we all tend to fall victims to instant gratification. We want the tantrum to stop and we want it to stop now. Add to this having people around looking at us and judging us, it’s a challenge for anyone to take the time to talk our kids out of it while helping them develop in these moments. But if we are able to, if we overcome the instant gratification urge, if we put more importance in our kids vs what the people around us think, it can be very rewarding. And this starts by first showing empathy, by showing understanding of what they are feeling. This helps calm them down and gives way for the upper level of the brain to start taking control, the logical part. Then you can start talking about how to fix this disagreement. Letting them know there is a light at the end of the tunnel further helps engage the upper level of the brain. For example in this case, saying something like, “If you can show me you’ve learned to ask permission before getting a snack, we’ll be sure to take your favorite box of cookies next time we come.” The main point here is that they stopped their tantrum because they now understand why you disagreed with their decision and the development that comes along with this is immense.

“We live in an age where we want and/or expect everything to happen instantly." We’ve probably all heard this before through some form of social media. But some things, like building self-confidence or building relationships, will take time no matter how you slice it, and it’s no different with helping our kids develop their brain by taking those difficult times as a learning opportunity. And to be realistic, we’re going to lose our cool at one point or another, but that’s OK. As long as we recognize we could have done better and let our kids know as well, and work towards having less of these instances, you will see a change in you and, in return, in your kids!

Note: Even though this article focuses on how to work with toddlers during these emotional responses or outbursts, if you think about it, this applies to how to work with people of all ages during emotional responses, minus the spanking example of course. Once you recognize someone is giving you an emotional response, aim towards tapping into the upper level of the brain, the logical part, by starting with empathy, to work towards resolving the conflict or disagreement.

Author's Bio: 

My name is Hector Lopez. I grew up in a small town in south Texas. I graduated with a degree in Manufacturing Engineering and work brought me to Houston where I have lived most of my adult life and currently reside with my beautiful amazing wife and two extraordinary sons.
I started my professional career working as a Manufacturing Engineer. Seven years into my career I took on a new role as a Performance Analyst. In this role I was challenged to change the culture of the work force to a culture of continuous improvement and this challenged me to change my entire way of thinking and put me on a new path. This led me to finding my true passion, becoming a student of human behavior. This also made continuous improvement become second nature to me and am always striving to find ways to implement what I learn as well as share it as a way of giving back to society.