How To Stopped an Emotional Tantrum with Three Easy Steps

I stood there totally helpless as my son started kicking his skis down the slope in utter frustration.

He is nine years old and a pretty good skier he wanted to follow my “line” down the mountain.  I didn’t realized he had fallen until I was well over a 100 yards away.  I turned around and watched unable to help.

He was hungry, tired, and could not get his ski back on.  He tried again and fell and now both skis were off.  It wasn’t going well and before I could get to him frustration yielded to anger.

He started kicking his skis down the hill.

This is a HUGE trigger for me. In the SEAL Teams you never treat your equipment that way. Your equipment keeps you alive.

I was lucky though,  I had a forced pause button in that he was 100 yards away.  I was able to remember what Pam Dunn taught me a few weekends ago about dealing with frustration within myself and with others.  By the time he reached me, I was ready with a calm tone of my own.

The emotion frustration usually means thoughts like

  • “Things outside my control block me.”
  • “It is not working”
  • “I’ve tried everything!”

And I could tell that he was thinking all three.

Then the words of Jane Nelsen, author of the  Positive Discipline books came to me. “Connect before you correct”. Remembering that a great way to connect is to relate to what they are experiencing without judgement, I said

“I can see you are frustrated and that your boots aren’t going into the skis let me try and help”

I got down on his level, put a hand on his shoulder and established eye contact.  What Susie Walton in RCB call’s a GEM, or Genuine Encounter Moment.

He looked up very frustrated but had not “fliped his lid” as Jane Nelson would say and was coach-able so I took the emotional “turn around” advice that I remembered from class and I offer him some gentle help to get one ski in place.  With that one little step forward his frustration eased and he got the second ski on and was skiing normally in a few minutes.

Three simple steps and I saw the power of all the parenting instruction I’d received from Susie Walton, Jane Nelsen, and Pam Dunn.

Three simple steps

I’m a recovering autocratic parent and my first reaction used to be to point out what is wrong, spew out a advice and point out any lessons that should have been learned from the situation.  You can imaging how that would have turned out with my son that day on the slopes. Not good.

Instead, I had a chance to practice and put together some of the best parenting lessons of my life to transform a tough situation for both of us into a chance to connect and effectively coach my son.

Here are the three steps again.  These work best for children 5 and up that know how to speak well.  These communication techniques are also effective for adults and teens, just calibrate for the age of the person. .

STEP ONE: Pause and Observe.  What emotion are you experiencing?  What emotion is your child (or whomever) experiencing?  Susie Walton, in her Joy of Parenting course calls this the “heart connector” and recommends touching your heart prior to responding.  This is your chance to notice how you are being triggered as well as the emotion the other party is experiencing.

STEP TWO:  Connect and Relate.  Don’t share any  judgement and good advice at this point. Give a  genuine encounter movement and show that you know what they are experiencing by making an observation of their state without judging it.  A hug is also a great idea if they are in a place to really receive it. Eye contact helps and excessive talking doesn’t.  Notice that I didn’t say “connect and then correct”. Any correction, if necessary, has to come once your child calms down.

STEP THREE: One Small Next Step.  For frustration, anger, and many other emotions, coach or help you child make just one small step forward. For my son that day, getting one boot set in the ski was all he needed to get back on track.

When you are dealing with your own emotional state of frustration or anger, the three steps are only slightly modified.

STEP ONE: Pause and Observe Yourself.  How do you feel?  Where do the body sensations cluster?  Sit with those feelings for as long as you practically can.

STEP TWO: Connect with your greater self.  Adjust your self talk to be kind to yourself.  When I find myself in harsh self talk about what I could or should have been doing I remind myself that “i’m did my best and I’ll do better next time.”

STEP THREE: One Small Step.  Figure out one small thing you can do to move forward and do it. Dont worry about the big picture or anything else going on.  If you have access to it, find what emotion you are in on Pam Dunn’s Tone of Voice table and follow the advice in the last column to “turn it around”.

Click here for Pam’s table and a chapter from her new book she pre-released to us last month.

Pam Dunn’s table is an amazing tool to learn and use. I’ve pulled out my workbook and referenced the table during conversations with my boys, colleagues, employees and friends.  It has always helped.  My personal goal as a parent and coach is to know this table well and to use this knowledge to help identify my emotions via my tone of voice and body gestures and those of the people in my life.