Let’s Talk About This Strategy: Ignore Your Child’s Tantrums or Big Feelings

child screaming while mom holds her ears and ignore

This is a big parenting technique that has been taught for decades about how to deal with tantrums and big feelings: just ignore them. And, if we’re being honest, it makes sense coming from a behavioral perspective – reinforce behaviors you want to see more of and ignore behaviors you want to see less of.

This strategy points to something very important which is your attention; as a parent, it is the most VALUABLE thing you can give your child. So, yes, you want to be intentional about how you give it.

Let’s take a second to consider how you can use that tool in the most efficient and productive way.

How do you want your child to learn how to deal with their feelings?

This is an important question because how you treat your child’s feelings is how they learn to treat their own feelings. In addition, it’s also how they learn to treat other people’s feelings.

Do you actually want to teach your child to ignore their feelings?  Or, respond by punishing themselves for their feelings?

If your feelings were ignored or punished when you were growing up, it’s helpful to reflect on the impact this has on how you relate to your own emotions.

Do you see how that impacts how you relate to other people’s feelings?

If you were told not to cry, do you find yourself telling people not to worry or not to make a big deal out of things? Or judging people (even if you don’t tell them) for worrying or “making a big deal”?

None of this comes from an uncaring place. It’s just how we have been taught on a collective level.

The question is, now with more awareness, how would you like to teach your kids to deal with their feelings, knowing that when they are grown up they will have a relationship with their emotions and the emotions of others based on what you show them?

As a parent you want to address your kids’ emotions and use strategies that are helpful in the present; but also try to think ahead about how you are shaping healthy habits for them in adulthood.  

What can you do instead of ignoring or punishing?

Even by asking this question, it immediately highlights that we have some collective black and white thinking about how to respond to emotions.

A good place to start is: what do I think is a healthy way to respond to emotions?

Next, a good question to ask is: am I doing that with my emotions now and modeling that to my kids?

And, finally: how can I teach what I consider to be a healthy way of dealing with feelings to my child in the moments they are having a tantrum or big feelings.

If our kids regularly see us lose our temper then they will think that’s a normal and acceptable response when they get upset.  Then when you try to redirect their tantrum or other negative behavior, what you are asking them to do will not line up with what they he seen you do; for a child that can be confusing.  

“Provide positive consequences when your child behaves appropriately. Praise him for managing his feelings well and point out good behavior…”

“The goal is to teach him socially appropriate ways to deal with his big feelings. By teaching him healthier ways to express himself, you’re giving him a lesson to use throughout his life.” (verywellfamily.com | How to deal with Temper Tantrums; Amy Morin, LCSW | May 29, 2021)

Start teaching your children about emotions early so that they can get comfortable with them and know that they are a part of life.  We recently discussed how you can instill emotional maturity in your kids, you can check that blog out HERE.

Everyone has different beliefs and values, so this post is about helping you clarify yours for yourself.

Some basic tips

Teaching kids about emotions happens mostly through modeling.  So, whatever you want to teach your child, model it, don’t just teach about it in the moment.  They are always watching. Modeling your behavior comes more naturally than them having to remember the thing you taught them about feelings..

One way to slow things down and come into the moment is to reflect back to them: there are some big emotions right now and that’s OK. I’m here with you.

If your child is doing unsafe things to express emotion, simply focus words/actions/boundaries on being safe.  Safety should be the priority and correcting the behavior can be the focus once the safety concern has been addressed.

If your child is old enough, debrief later, teach with a couple short sentences so they can integrate the experience and learn about how to be with emotion better next time.  Sometimes talking about their emotions, outside of the emotional event, means they are more receptive to listening and accepting that their behavior was not the best choice of how to handle it.  

As a parent your main goal is to have a healthy, happy child that goes on to be a happy, healthy adult.  That happens through considering how your actions and reactions to behaviors now can affect how they cope and respond to the big feelings they will experience later in life. 

This can be a challenge and is different from family to family, depending on your values.  Our therapists are here to help with exactly the types of things!  Contact us today.

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