Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Dr. Steve Pastyrnak, Division Chief, Pediatric Psychology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI. He shares techniques for different age groups on how to keep a child’s temper in check during rising summer temperatures.
Toddler and Preschoolers
When the heat is high, frustration and anger tend to boil over for kids of any age. For toddlers and preschoolers, who are learning how to express themselves, tantrums and angry outbursts are very normal. Since parents will have a hard time reasoning with little ones, modeling and distraction techniques can help deal with grumpy behavior. But a little patience and a good sense of humor is always a parent’s best bet.
A modeling technique involves parents remaining calm and cool, no matter how frustrating the kids are in the moment. Tots will take cues from those around them and will calm down more quickly when being spoken to in a quiet and reassuring tone of voice. Distraction involves using an activity or toy to redirect the child’s attention and disconnect frustration from crying, yelling, and screaming. But it’s important to distract before the frustration gets out of control or when kids start calming down. Otherwise, toddlers may connect anger and tantrums with getting a toy. Parents should keep a handy tool box of really cool (and inexpensive) items such as playdough, bubbles, crayons, etc.
If your kids are in a full-blown tantrum, however, the only solution is to remove them from the situation. Move them to another place or keep them on your lap. Let anger run its course.
Help kids handle physical stress and negative thoughts by teaching simple breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. Breathe slowly in through the nose (like smelling a flower) and the slowly out through the mouth (like blowing out a candle). The slower the better. Then have kids squeeze specific muscle groups (arms, stomachs, or even their faces) and hold the tension for a few seconds before relaxing. This technique will release some physical energy while also teaching the bodies how to relax.
Parents can also consider saying positive reinforcements (“Good job,” “You are so strong, brave, awesome, etc.”) for any situation that the child handles on her own. While verbal praises address behaviors well, teach kids another way to banish negative thoughts by using, what I call, the “Jedi” mind trick. Have kids recite simple positive thoughts to themselves, such as “I can do this,” “I’m okay,” and “No big deal.” The more kids practice saying these positive phrases, the more likely that they will change negative thoughts into positive ones.