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No parent enjoys dealing with temper tantrums. Especially when they happen in public. These meltdowns can be frustrating, embarrassing, and sometimes even infuriating. These feelings are totally valid for any parent. We’ve all felt it!
But when you’re a single parent, you might find these tantrums even more difficult to deal with. You might feel completely overwhelmed when this happens. You might see your coupled parent friends stay cool and collected during these meltdowns, and feel ashamed that you find it hard to.
Let me tell you something: there is nothing to be ashamed of. Tantrums are often – objectively – a lot harder to deal with when you’re parenting alone… just like most everything else is harder to deal with when you’re parenting alone. The frustration and potential insecurity you’re feeling is real.
In today’s blog, I have some tips for all single parents out there who might be struggling with temper tantrums. But first, let’s talk more about this unique experience and why it’s so… hard to deal with!
4 reasons why tantrums are especially hard to deal with when you’re a single parent
There are some very specific reasons why tantrums are often harder to deal with when you’re a single parent than when you’re parenting as part of a team. Obviously, most parts of single parenting are more challenging, but tantrums can be especially upsetting because:
How to manage tantrums as a single parent
Tantrums are one of the hardest things to deal with as a parent, but these tips might help.
As a single parent, the way you manage your child’s tantrums can look a bit different than it does for co-parents. This is especially true if you feel like you’re being undermined by someone else (whether that’s your ex or another adult in your child’s life).
Don’t lose hope! Even if you feel like you’re starting over with your child again and again, the important thing is that you can meet your child’s needs in the moment while still protecting your sanity.
Understand what tantrums are
At their root, temper tantrums are your child’s way of expressing that their needs aren’t being met. It can be helpful to try to figure out what that need is. Of course, they think that their “need” is to get the new toy, more time at the park, more table time, and so on. But what they truly need deep down probably looks a lot different.
For example, do they need to be reassured of your love for them? Do they need to rest? Are they hungry or sad? Are they overwhelmed with the back and forth? Or maybe they’re trying to figure out where exactly your limits are, because they’ve experienced different adults having very different limits with them?
Whatever the underlying need is, try to address it – or at least see it. This can make tantrums feel a lot less personal.
Understand your own baggage
We all have baggage whether we know it or not. By baggage, I mean any past experiences or emotions that come up for us on our parenting journey. For example, many of us have baggage from the way we were parented. Or we might have leftover baggage from a former relationship with our child’s other parent. Or we might simply be insecure about our own ability to parent (we’ve all been there!).
Whatever these triggers are for you, understanding how they come up when your child is having a tantrum can go a long way. What are you bringing to the interaction? Just being aware of these things is very powerful.
For example, perhaps you feel (understandably) triggered when your child says that they’d rather be at their other parent’s house because “They let me do whatever I want!”. This baggage might lead you to feel totally helpless and angry, which can get in the way of really being able to deal with your child’s immediate emotional needs.
Unfortunately, you may not have much control over what happens in other places where your child spends time. But it’s important to stay consistent when your child is with you. Even if they’re having a temper tantrum, remind them of the rules. Consistency is predictability, and predictability is safety. Try not to feel guilty about it – understand this guilt as part of the “baggage” that you might be bringing to the interaction (see above!).
To remind them of the rules you can try saying something like, “I hear and see that you’re angry that I’m saying no. Even though you might be allowed to do this at your dad’s/mom’s, the rules are different here. I love you and I’m here to help you feel more calm when you’re ready.”
Take a breath
I've talked about this before, and that’s because it really works. Breathing deeply, into your diaphragm, shuts down your body’s stress response. It helps you get out of fight-or-flight mode and think more clearly about how to respond to your child’s tantrum.
It’s really hard to do in the moment – a child’s temper tantrum is probably one of the most immediately stress-inducing things that parents can experience – but when we react while we’re in fight-or-flight, we can make decisions in the heat of the moment that aren’t reflective of the type of parent we want to be.
So, breathe into your belly for 4 counts. Hold your breath for 4. And exhale, slowly, for 4 counts. Try this a few times. You should notice feeling less agitated and hopefully more calm.
Not working? This is the hardest part because it may not work when you try it the first time so…Practice, Practice, Practice whenever you feel frustrated with anything, not just your child’s tantrums. With practice, you will get better.
I’m here to help! Virtual support groups and programs for parents
Do you want to learn more about temper tantrums and how to handle them? I’m offering a FREE online workshop on Wednesday, October 18th for parents of children aged 3 to 8 who want to learn how to:
Register here – I’d love to see you!
If you’re looking for more in-depth support, I also offer a virtual support group for Single Moms of Color. Space is limited, so get in touch with me today if you’re interested in joining us.
Thanks for reading, and see you next month.
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