Expert Parenting Advice
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Three steps to take when your child is very upset or throwing a tantrum.

Last night, I made chocolate brownies for dessert. They were sweet, sticky, and really good.

My 4-year-old daughter also thought so. In fact, after she had eaten about half her plate, she said "I want more."

I told her "I'm sorry honey, but there aren't any more. Now finish what you have."

But, she is 4-years old, and has stopped believing me. So she said "Then I'll go look myself," picked up her plate to go to the kitchen...and dropped all her remaining brownies on the carpet!

She was soooo sad. And angry. And upset. "I WANT MORE BROWNIES!" she cried. "IT'S UNFAIR!"

I was also upset. I've told her a million times not to walk around with her plate during dinner. I told her there weren't any more brownies. But she just doesn't seem to listen.

But then I thought about something that Judy Arnall, a brain and child development specialist that I interviewed a while back, told me:

When a child is throwing a tantrum, or upset, or screaming, or crying, they’re under stress. So, their body is releasing cortisol and adrenaline. Their body is on high alert and by not even just saying anything, just calming them down, putting them in your lap, picking them up, giving them a hug, you’re calming physically the sympathetic nervous system. So, you’re calming them down.

Judy Arnall

I realized that she was already feeling bad. Trying to scold her for doing something that I told her not to do now was not going to help anything.

Instead, I followed Judy's advice, and gave her a hug. Then, after we both had calmed down a bit, we spoke about the disappointment she felt when she lost her remaining brownies.

After that, I asked her what she thought we could do. There wasn't any more brownies left, but was there anything else she wanted.

"What about the dried kiwi fruit?" she asked.

So I gave her some dried kiwi fruit, and she was happy again.

Following this process that Judy Arnall describes in our interview, where you first hug and calm down, then acknowledge and talk about emotions, and then finally help them problem solve, feels so much better than constantly yelling or scolding or getting angry.

You feel more connected to your child, your relationship improves, and you get the chance to teach your child how to manage their emotions.

And isn't teaching them how to manage their emotions more important than teaching them to obey and sit down at dinner?

In the interview with Judy Arnall, she explains why hugging your child when they misbehave is important if you want them to calm down, how to stay calm when your child is upsetting you, and what to say and do after your child has calmed down.