What every parent should remember about tantrums

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 Photo: Getty Images

For anyone with a toddler, it's a familiar scenario.

You're out and about, maybe doing some supermarket shopping, or just at the park.

Something upsets your little one, and bam: she's on the floor, crying her eyes out and giving the world a front-seat viewing of an epic toddler tantrum.

Kristen Bell is a mum to two girls.
Kristen Bell is a mum to two girls.  Photo: Getty Images

When this happens, you might feel embarrassed. You may cringe at the looks other people are shooting you, or just wish you were anywhere but there.

Unless you're Kristen Bell, that is.

The actress and mother of two young girls was asked to share her most embarrassing parenting moment when interviewed for the American parenting website, Babble.

Instead of reeling off a list of events, Kristen gave the following answer:

"If my child is acting a fool in the grocery store, the embarrassment is on her. She's going to act the way a child acts.

"And I'm not going to let that reflect on me or bring me down. That shouldn't make me feel ashamed or embarrassed in any way.

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"Only you can make you feel a certain way."

Those sentiments are to be applauded, says clinical psychologist Kirstin Bouse, author of The Conscious Mother.

However, she says it's really common for mums to blame themselves when their kids don't behave well. (And that in general, men don't tend to feel that same sense of responsibility for their kid's actions.)

While mums often feel bad about their children's behaviour, Bouse says the way your little one acts is no reflection on yourself as a parent, nor your parenting skills.

Instead, she says that small children are neuro-developmentally unable to regulate their emotions, which is why they tantrum.

"There's so much for our children to learn. Managing their emotions, thinking ahead, thinking of consequences, empathy, sharing, cooperation; the list goes on. They aren't born with these capacities, they develop over time."

Meltdowns are therefore not a sign that you're a "bad parent" or that you're doing anything wrong.

Rather, "It's a sign that the child is still acquiring that skill [regulating their emotions]."

She likens it to walking, saying we forget how many times our toddler fell while learning that skill. It takes just as many stumbles before little ones learn to regulate their emotions, too.

And while they're learning, toddlers need lots of support and patience.

If you focus your energy on your own feelings of embarrassment, rather than on helping your child deal with her emotions, you're not helping her learn.

"If children feel they aren't learning quickly enough, they can begin to feel like a failure and give up trying to learn the new skill."

Of course, there are ways to help your toddler avoid a tantrum. For instance, try not to take your child shopping when she's overtired, or hungry.

But if she does have one, Bouse recommends taking a step back and asking yourself some questions. Is your child at an age where she should have the capacity to manage her emotions well? If you feel bad about her behaviour, why do you feel that way? Does it trigger other issues for you?

Then, take some deep breaths and try to see the situation from your child's perspective.

Before launching into problem solving mode, validate your child's feelings - while internally validating your own.

And once the storm of the tantrum has passed, don't beat yourself up.

Instead, think about Kristen Bell again.

While she says it's important to feel and "process" your feelings, you then need to make a choice about how to deal with them.

"Once the negative feeling starts to own you, it's on you to put it in the trash and let it go. You are the only person that has the power to change your feelings."