Imagine that we can plot a tantrum on a graph…
The “x-axis” is “level of tantrum” and the “y-axis” is “time.” The tantrum shape is a bell curve, divided into stages. The first stage: there’s no tantrum, but then there’s some sort of trigger, after which behavior begins to worsen. It escalates to its worst level (dysregulation zone) and after time begins to reduce, eventually coming back to ‘zero.’
The place where parents are most motivated to intervene in their child’s behavior?
That top (orange) area.
The place where interventions are LEAST likely to do any good?
Also that top (orange) area. (Aha.)
Flip the illustration over (or look at the bottom half) and you’ll see the bell curve shape reproduced, with 5 differently colored columns. These columns coordinate with the stages of the tantrum, and include advice on best techniques for managing behaviors during that phase.
Parents, this is a cheat-sheet! A short-cut to understanding and better responding to behavior. Use this to pick effective interventions based on your child’s brain functioning at any given moment.
To say it another way–this helps make sense of your child’s tantrums, explains why some things you do just make things worse, and gives a parent guidance for what TO do instead.
This is the concept that parents, over and over, have told me has been most helpful for them, in understanding and managing behavior.
(PS. “Tantrums” aren’t just for toddlers! Teenagers and you and me–we all have a version of tantrums, too!)
Want more? There are lots of resources for parents on this website related to the concept “The Arc of the Tantrum.” Here’s a list:
- The **Webinar**! This blog post is a ton of information, striped down to its most basic level, but the webinar gives you a chance to hear the concepts explained more thoroughly, with more examples and details that make it easier to understand and implement. Our brains typically need to interact with information more than however long you spend on this page to be able to use that information. Give yourself the gift of more support! Join us live or watch the replay anytime.
- The Arc of the Tantrum infographic as a PDF file. This is the better file for printing. Put it on your fridge! Give it to a friend or a teacher.
- The Arc of the Tantrum 3 minute sampler video
- “Are you going to let her get away with that?” blog post
- The Kids who Need the Most Love will ask for it in the most Unloving Ways
I don’t spend much time advising parents on how to punish more effectively. In fact, I tend to tell parents that I am not a big fan of punishment at all. So, a parent rightfully asked me the other day: “Well then, if not punishment, what DO we do?
What a good question! Most parents punish because they believe that’s how to get kids to behave appropriately. (But actually research has proven that more punishments do NOT equal long-term improved behaviors, and can sometimes make things worse.) So here are 3 things that help achieve the goal of cooperative, positive, appropriate behavior more effectively, while helping to maintain a positive and long-lasting parent-child relationship.
- Show kids what you DO want them to do, and support them, encourage them, catch them doing it, praise them. Give them positive options!
- Change the child’s environment so that it supports positive behaviors. Simple example: don’t keep the jar of cookies where your 3 year old can reach them. More complex example: figure out how long of a playdate your kid can handle before falling apart. Keep playdates within that time frame until you’re both ready to experiment with incremental increases.
- Figure out what’s behind the unwanted/negative behaviors. Behavior is a communication, I like to say… what is your child’s behavior saying to you? Hint: it’s usually something along the lines of: “I’m tired and over stimulated” or “I can’t handle this much freedom,” or “I really need more time with you/attention from you,” or “Something’s not right with me,” or “I am not getting enough opportunities to feel powerful and in charge of my life.” When parents understand what the child’s behavior is communicating, they can better meet the underlying need… which generally has a positive effect on the unwanted behavior!
There are many, many more ways of shaping behavior, but these are some favorites, especially the last one. A little understanding goes a long way. :^)
When our kids are sick and we don’t know what’s wrong or how to deal with it, we usually go to the doctor. We don’t feel conflicted about seeking that professional’s help, and we don’t wait until things are so bad that our child is comatose. But for some reason, with behavioral/emotional/relationship challenges, people can be reluctant to seek help, often waiting until the problems worsen and get cemented in place. John Gottman says that, on average, couples wait 7 years before they seek the help they need. I think that parents do better, and seek help much sooner, but it is so important to remember that therapy can be supportive at any stage, and can help improve relationships by resolving minor challenges before they become a major problem.
When a child has behavior problems, parents come in to my office, and say that they worry that “x” behavior might be a sign of something very serious. I understand that fear, I really do (I’m a parent, too.) But, it’s not just when something’s terribly wrong that we can get help from a professional. Even when “everything’s fine,” it’s possible for a professional to help parents identify and improve the small hangups in their daily life. A skillful child & family therapist can help parents tweak a particular area, and–via the magic of the parenting relationship–even if the parents had little to do with creating the problem, they can still be largely responsible for fixing the problem.
So what is a small area of your daily life that you’d love to see get better? Bedtime? Transitions? The dinner table? A difference of opinion between you & your spouse about how to handle something? Homework? Mornings? Chores? I encourage you to seek out a supportive, non-judgmental therapist who specializes in kids/families/parenting. Please feel free to email or call me if I might be of help!