StoryTime: Bratty, Crybaby Tantrums of a 4-Year-Old

What do I do when I’m around a child that exhibits negative self-talk and tantrums?

I’m going to take you back to recent tantrum I experienced with a child who was 4 years old, and I had never met before.

Sometimes I like to babysit in my hometown- as a way to test my tools, since I have no children of my own. Most other parenting coaches have children of their own and they share what’s worked for them. For me, I have no children- so working with other people’s children is how I practice my craft.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking- “But my child acts better for others than for me.” And yes, that is 100% true- but I also have a unique lens to see behavior with. I’m not looking for just listening, I’m looking for compliance and even extending abilities. When I come into a home I’m looking at it with a very trained eye, and naturally put children in testing situations to see how they will respond. This was one of those times.

So, this is a moment from that day- which started to go vastly off course, and with some quick acting responses I was able to savage and empower a 4 year old who self-proclamined she was “a brat and crybaby”- her words, not mine.

So this particular moment happened as we were coloring using really awesome paint sticks.

It was great- I showed her how to tape 4 pieces of paper together to make ONE MEGA sheet of paper, and we were coloring together- really enjoying our time. Until…

Until she messed up while drawing a star- and let out a scream of frustration along with throwing the paint stick into the living room. (We were sitting at the kitchen island, facing the living room- for reference.) After she threw the paint stick into the living room- she shrieked out this:

“I’m not good enough and I HATE these paint sticks. They always mess me up.”

And I noticed her tear-filled eyes quickly darted to me. She was reading me, for my reaction.

These are the moments I thrive in! Moments where I can tell what the motivation is. So grateful for my training and experience to really rise to the occasion.

Our conversation:

“Yikes! Sounds so frustrating learning how to draw stars.” (Intentionally ignoring the throwing, and focusing on validating.)

“Yeah, and I’m not good at them.”

“Yet! You’re not good at them yet!” (Reframing using encouraging phrases)

“How do I get good?”

“Oh! You have to practice, like practice a hundred times! That’s how I learned.” (Sharing my own shared experience- normalizing the struggle.)

"But practicing is hard and it always makes my hands hurt.”

“Yeah, I know that feeling- but the hurting hand is a good sign, means you’re building new muscles! Whenever I feel those pains- I just take a quick break, shake things out (I sang shake it off) and then try again. If it REALLLLLLLLLLLLLLY hurts. I take a break and play a game.” (Identifying the problem and refocusing on problem solving, now don’t worry I have not forgotten about the paint stick)

“What kind of game?”

“Any game! Just a game that doesn’t use my hands to write for too long. It gives my hand a break. But I have to remember that if I want to get better, I will have to practice at some point. So this isn’t to get out of doing that work.” (Listening and answering- but reframing back to the original problem. Again, still have my awareness on the thrown paint stick.)

“Oh……”

“Do you want to practice some more? Or move on to a game?” (Helping to empower her by offering a limited choice. Both choices will bring in the paint stick getting picked up.)

Before I share what she said- I want to highlight why I did what I did.

When children are facing difficult moments, their lip will flip so quickly! I’m aware of that. But this is where in typical parenting we would redirect to shaming the outburst, yelling at her to pick up the paint stick, or punish her for throwing the paint stick. When we, as the adults, choose to go down the route of punishment- children will go to this place more and more and more. The punishment will become a behavior reinforcement. This is why I say, I’m not like most babysitters- my eye is trained to find the opportunities.

By connecting to her feelings of discouragement and frustration- it opened up us to talk about what was going on, without me having to add any more stress to the moment. She was already stressed, my goal was to help her calm down so that we can problem solve through the problem.

At first, this process is slow, clunky, weird, and foreign- but the more you practice it, the easier it will become.

So back to what she chose.

“I want to practice some more!”

“Great, I would love to stay here and cheer you on. Because practicing a new skill can be tricky! Wait a second- where is the blue paint stick though? That’s the color you were using and now I don’t see it. Do you?” (See, I didn’t forget that it needs to get picked up. Here I acknowledged her choice, and redirected to her picking up the paint stick she threw without reinforcing the negative response.)

Sheepishly “Mmhmmm…” eyes go to paint stick in the living room.

“Awesome, where is it? I don’t see it!” (I know exactly where it is, but I am wanting all this work to come from her, not me. She is acting sheepish because she’s still nervous I’m going to yell or punish. So I’m working hard to stay neutral in this moment.)

Even more sheepish “Over there, I threw it.”

“OOOOOH! Now I remember, when you felt frustrated, you chose to throw the paint stick! Well, how can you fix that mistake?” (I made it safe for her to admit to the mistake. I labeled it as a mistake while sharing what emotion she was feeling. I also asked for her input on how to fix the mistake. I am intentionally NOT giving her the answers or directions.)

Still nervouse “I can pick it up?”

“Really? That would be super helpful, why don’t you go do that!” (Validated the work she did to figure how to solve the problem. By doing this I didn’t have to add anything else to the mix. I had labeled it a mistake, then created a safe space for her to fix her mistake.)

We went on to color and practice stars together. She probably drew 25 while I was there with her. Well over 45 minutes of coloring intentionally with the paint sticks. We had made over 3 of the mega sheets of paper to draw the stars on.

I share this story because I often get asked if the stuff I teach is applicable “In the real world” and yes, that real world is 100% where the skills, tools, and strategies I teach should be applied. Because we ALL have feelings and emotions- and sometimes they get big and scary and overwhelming- but as my favorite inspiration shares:

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.” - L.R.Knost

So if this story resonates with you, please share some love in the comments below- it’s super helpful for me to hear what you like and what you don’t like.

If you’re ready to take the next step, I invite you to check out my free parenting style quiz “How Kind is Your Family” and don’t forget to download the FREE guide that goes along with each result. There you will learn if you’re the “too kind” parent, the “too firm” parent, or the “kind and firm” parent!

Also, I invite you to join the WAIT LIST for “How to Build Your Kind Family” this is my group coaching program where I have hosted over 30 parents along on their journey to better their parenting relationship! I open doors for registration FOUR times a year! So don’t miss out on the next time they open!