There are quite some parenting tactics you can take advantage of to diffuse your child’s temper tantrums, and we’ve already shared a few of them, including a list of phrases that have the power to stop a meltdown in its tracks potentially.
One mom, however, may have found one of the most effective parenting tricks you can use right now when faced with a preschooler meltdown. Ask your child: “Is this a big problem, a medium problem, or a small problem?”
Fabiana Santos, mom to a 5-year-old girl, learned the phrase from psychologist Sally Neuberger whom she consulted when her daughter was having trouble adjusting to kindergarten, she shared onAleteia (republished from Brazilian blog Tudo Sobre Minha Mae). “Among the many tips that [she] gave us, [this] was one that I found fantastic, although it was very simple -- and that’s exactly why I feel it’s worth sharing,” said Fabiana.
The “big, medium, small” question shows your interest in what’s bothering your child. You show child empathy. “The psychologist explained to me that we need to make children feel respected in the sense of acknowledging what they are feeling,” Fabiana shared. Acknowledging a person’s feelings, whether child or grown-up, is a sign of readiness to connect with that person.
Aside from acknowledgment, “we need to help kids (ages 5 and up) think and figure out what is going on with them,” said Fabiana. “When we acknowledge what they are going through, and at the same time make them participate in solving the problem, we can disarm the tantrum.”
And when you give your child the opportunity to solve the problem on his own, he begins to develop self-reliance and confidence in himself -- key traits to raising a happier adult. Plus, teaching your child to do problem-solving will help lessen his meltdown episodes.
The “big, medium, small” question works for preschoolers because they can already think and assess what’s going on around them (with a little guidance from mom and dad, of course). Fabiana shared that her daughter already understands that a small problem requires a quick and simple solution. Medium problems are those that her daughter knows need time and more effort to solve.
“If a problem is serious -- and obviously what is serious from a child’s point-of-view is not something to be dismissed, even though it may seem silly to us -- you might need to talk it over more and help her understand that sometimes there are things that do not go exactly the way we want,” said Fabiana.
She gave an example where the question worked wonders. One morning, the pair had trouble getting ready for school. Her daughter wanted to wear a pair of pants that was already dirty and scheduled for a wash. When the little girl started to fuss, the mom asked her, “Is this a big problem, a medium problem, or a small problem?” Her daughter sheepishly answered with “small.”
“And I once again explained that we already knew that small problems are easy to solve. I asked for her suggestions on how we would solve that small problem (I learned that it is important to give her time to think and respond) and she said, ‘choosing other pants,’” said the mom.
Her daughter then went to her closet to pick a pair she wanted to wear and showed it to her mom. Fabiana congratulated her for coming up with a solution on her own -- an important final step to the “big, medium, small” question.
Ready to try it out the next time your child has a tantrum? Remember: be empathetic, let your child find ways to solve the problem, then congratulate your child for her efforts. Good luck!