ABCs of mindful tantrums. Elise Bialylew

The mindful ABC’s of managing tantrums

In Children and Family, Community and Relationship by Elise BialylewLeave a Comment

Elise shows how mindfulness techniques can help with the emotional stress of dealing with your child’s tantrums.


Parenting. On a good day, it’s an exhilarating spiritual journey of epic proportions, where we have the privilege of witnessing our most creative project flourish. On a bad day, it’s an exhausting, frustrating ride where we are tested beyond our limits through sleep deprivation, tantrums, mastitis, stress, relationship tension or self-doubt.

Mindfulness has certainly been a crucial part of my parenting survival tool kit. Not only in managing the challenges, but also in helping me remember to be present and appreciate the daily magic amidst the domestic monotony.

As a mother with a gorgeous two year old girl, I’ve found mindfulness particularly helpful for managing tantrums. So here are a few tips on how to deal with tantrums mindfully using what I call the emotional ABC’s.

A – acknowledge

When tantrums strike, it’s easy to lose your calm. Your child’s cry is designed to set off your inner emotional alarm bell. It aims to get your immediate attention and avoid potential threats. However, tantrums are a developmentally normal phenomenon that most often only reflect a child’s attempt to assert themselves and develop agency. To help ground yourself and move from stressed to calm when your child is having a tantrum, first consciously recognise what’s happening and silently label it ‘tantrum’.

This is the first step to avoid getting lost in the emotional storm. By actively labelling ‘tantrum’ you’ll be activating the higher regions of your brain. Those that allow you to think more clearly, problem-solve and stay calm rather than panic. Then acknowledge the feelings your child is having and label them. For example, ‘I understand you really want to have a biscuit but we need to eat a healthy dinner first’. Follow this with, ‘I can see you’re really upset.’ This helps your child learn about their emotional world.The mindful ABC's of managing tantrums

B – be open and breathe

Once you’ve recognised and labelled what’s happening, bring your attention to your breath. You may notice that your breath is becoming restricted or fast as your emotions are triggered. Slow your breath down and extend your exhalation. This will quiet your entire nervous system, keeping you calm rather than reactive, and helping you make better decisions about what is needed. Turn to your breath as a way of staying grounded and not losing your cool.

C – curiously explore

Once you’ve connected with your breath and calmed your own nervous system down, activate your curiosity and ask yourself, ‘What is needed in this moment?’ If you’re in public, it may be picking your child up and leaving the situation. If you’re at home, it might simply be anchoring to your own breathing while the tantrum passes, making an empathetic statement to your child, or diverting their attention with distraction. When we are emotionally triggered into a stress response, we lose our capacity to make wise decisions. Mindfulness helps us regain this wisdom and make better decisions, especially when under pressure.

Don’t be hard on yourself

When dealing with the many challenges of parenting, self-compassion is a powerful antidote to any feelings of inadequacy that can arise. When tantrums happen, it’s easy to get frustrated at your child and at yourself. So when the tantrum has passed, take a moment to remind yourself that this is a very normal part of a child’s development. Think of all the other parents who may be dealing with a tantrum in this very moment. Connect to this sense of shared humanity. You’re not in this alone. Practise active self-compassion by putting your hand on your heart and offering yourself some phrases of warmth, love and reassurance. Silently wish yourself well by repeating, “I’m doing the best I can.”


About the author

Elise Bialylew

Elise Bialylew is founder of Mindful in May, the world’s largest online global mindfulness fundraising campaign that features the world’s leading experts and raises funds for clean water projects in the developing world. A doctor trained in psychiatry, and mindfulness expert, she’s passionate about supporting individuals and organisations to develop inner tools for greater wellbeing and flourishing. This is an extract from her latest book The Happiness Plan.

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