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  • Courtney Bowles, LCMHCA

Tantrums: How To ACT In Response

As a parent, you want to do right by your child. You love them and support them and want them to grow up kind and well-adjusted. But, when tantrums begin happening- which by the way is a sign of a healthy developing child- it’s hard to know how exactly to address these big emotions when they cross a boundary. You may have friends and family offer advice, but what do the child experts say?

The ACT method was created by Dr. Garry Landreth, the creator of child-centered play therapy, but is universally used by many. Here’s a rundown of how it may look.

Picture this: Your child becomes angry and throws a block at you. What do you do?

A - Acknowledge your child’s feelings.

We often skip this step and jump to the following two steps, but this is really important! When you acknowledge your child’s feelings you’re supporting their emotion, even if you can’t support their behavior. In addition to feeling supported, acknowledging their feelings also helps build emotional literacy.

Sometimes you may need to sit with this step for a moment before being able to move to a space where the limits and alternative choices can be heard. This can look like physically getting on your child’s level and saying something along the lines of “You’re feeling really angry…” followed by some big belly breaths.

If it’s comfortable for you and your child, gently hold their hands and take those big breaths together. Use this as a moment of connection. These breaths are as much for you as they are for your child.

C - Communicate the limit

Once you and your child are regulated and your words can be heard, now it is time to communicate the limit. As parents, you are tasked with not only loving your children, but teaching them as well. Use simple statements that don’t emphasize blame or bring shame onto the child. This may sound like “People are not targets for throwing blocks at.”

T - Target the choice

Last, but not least, target the choice. This is where you can think of healthy and creative alternatives. One example may be “You can build with the blocks or throw them in the bucket! I’m curious to see what you’re going to choose to do!” At this point, you may stand up and move towards the blocks. The idea is to move the attention away from the problem and instead focus on a solution or alternative. The alternative choices in your house may look different than your friends’ or neighbors, so this will be unique to you. Depending on your child’s age, they may even have a creative alternative of their own!

Setting healthy limits will not only help you uphold boundaries in your family, but it also helps children learn self-control, responsibility, and teaches them that they have choices. This method can be adapted for older children and adolescents, and the great thing is that because it’s based on connection and communication, you’re building skills and you won’t run the risk of your child getting tired of sticker charts and rewards.

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