Dealing with Tantrums – A RIE Chat Summary

(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)

Hello Dear RIE Families,

Just one family joined me today, and from their beautiful front lawn! I hope that all of you were out and enjoying this beautiful temperate afternoon! It was so great to get back to a RIE mindset after weeks of not being able to think about much of anything.

I started my afternoon by tuning into the Pikler webinar that was focused on parental empowerment and support with RIE Associates Janet Lansbury, Hari Grebler, and Lisa Sunbury, and Pikler professionals Elsa Chahin, Tracy Epps, and Pia Dogl. It was a good transition into thinking about the Educaring Approach.

They opened the conversation by asking parents to chime in with what they think their superpowers are…and I’m going to challenge you to do the same. Think about it now, I’ll wait, what are YOUR superpowers as a parent?








Think of any? The ones echoed on screen were: being fully present with their children, asking themselves how quickly they can come back from anger, connection, vulnerability/sensitivity, patience, honesty, authenticity, forgiveness of self…Heady stuff, I know…but I also know that you can count those in your bag (on your belt? I don’t watch enough superhero movies…) of superpowers, too. Maybe not all the time (and that was a beautiful idea expressed by Janet…that this is a practice…it will take a lifetime of work, but every day you are getting better and better), but those skills and attributes are most definitely there.

The theme they focused on most is what to do when children are vacillating between wanting something, getting it…and then not wanting it…rinse/repeat until meltdown. Anyone else experiencing that? Here’s what the experts reminded us…

  1. Don’t take it personally, and don’t take it on as YOUR problem. Don’t try to fix it, just comment on it, and then be there. (We need to talk it all out…what does your child need?)
  2. Remember, they don’t have the words and emotional bandwidth to come to you and say “life is really hard right now and I’m just kind of spinning out.” (Most adults I know don’t always have said emotional bandwidth…) Sometimes, they just need to have a meltdown to let out all of their pent up emotions.
  3. The most important thing you can do is to try to be present and not feel like you have to fix it…that will feed into the stress (think about how you feel when you are upset and just want to talk it out vs it talking to someone who wants to fix it for you)
  4. If it is upsetting a younger sibling, simply authentically say, “yes, your sister is having a hard time right now.” Normalize it.
  5. Remember that feelings have a beginning, a middle, and an end…and if you try to end the feelings before it is actually over, it will simply add to the pent up feelings for next time.
  6. It all comes back to taking care of yourself. Giving yourself the time and space to be present for your child’s emotional storms. Remember – the way you are responding to your child’s upset (and responding to your own) models for them how to self-calm for themselves (wayyy in the future)

While waiting for my first attendee, I started reading and taking notes on a new book I just learned about…The Opposite of Combat: A Parent’s Guide for Teaching Siblings How to Collaborate and Solve Their Own Conflicts. I will bring you a synopsis of that shortly. (Teaser!)

And yes, just one caller today, but that’s okay: it was great to catch up with her and see how much her child has grown…and to get back into thinking about RIE. We talked about things like how her child really wants her phone because she’s on it so much…I didn’t mention it on the call, but I want to say now: take some time to try to schedule your time on the phone, so it isn’t quite so present (I know, easier said than done). And it’s okay to re-establish a limit you’ve been soft on… “Yes, I know I used to let you hold the phone, but I’m not going to do that anymore.” The phone is your tool; it’s perfectly fine to not allow your child to hold and play with it. That’s a limit you can feel comfortable being firm about…even if your child protests. The more consistent you are with this (and any) limit, the more the protests will wane.

I loved talking about the RIE basics: slowing down being the biggest one. If your child is tantruming or upset during transition times, remember this is the time to slow down even more. The temptation is to hurry through your routine. Instead, try slowing way down, being present, and talking to them. Transitions are hard for us all, but given the opportunity to go through them together, with someone who’s present with you, feels so much better than just getting it over and done with. We also talked about the importance of routines and predictability…remembering that children thrive on consistency, especially around caregiving. With feeding for example, hungry upset children may stop crying when they see the snack mat come out. And even in groups, children learn patience when they understand the process of handwashing and bib selection. At the end of the meal, handwashing is your signal to them that you’re serious about being done…they can choose whether or not to reengage in the meal or hurry on back to their play. So routines are less about rigid rules to put order into your day and more about creating signposts for your child, giving them more understanding about what is happening and when…and opportunity to join in.

Getting back to my teaser about siblings, I’m looking forward to scheduling a Tuesday evening chat session for parents of siblings…and getting back into the swing of things in general. Please let me know how I can be a resource for you.

Leaving you with a reading from The Parent’s Tao Te Ching as I always do…and wishing you peace and health…


35. Make the Ordinary Come Alive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.


You will have to constantly contend
with the pressure for ever more,
and ever bigger,
that culture seeks to impose
on your children
and you.

It takes courage and discipline
to go slow,
live simply,
and see clearly.
But the rewards are great.
What ordinary thing can you do together today?