Should I record my kids’ tantrums for their counselor? Only in rare cases

Imagine you’ve been working with a counselor, like myself, and trying to reduce tantrums, acting out and other challenging behaviors. You might feel compelled to record the tantrum to show the counselor, psychiatrist or doctor. I get parents wanting to show me video evidence of what their kid did – or even using me as a threat – “I’m going to record this and show it to Mr. Jeff!”

There’s only a few good reasons to record a tantrum.

First, let’s squash the common reason parents record their kids’ tantrums. They think it’ll get their kid to straighten up, act right or somehow calm down more quickly. RARELY do I see this. In fact, the opposite tends to be more true. Kids feel shamed, are already upset and having a phone recording them makes them more upset.

There was one experiment where they tested morals using a mirror. They had a bowl of candy out for Halloween with a sign that said, “Take One”. One group had a mirror pointing towards the children while another did not. They found that when the mirror was in place, children were more likely to follow the guideline of only taking one piece of candy – presumably due to seeing themselves making the choice.

One reason you may want to record your child’s tantrum is for providing feedback. Make sure you specify that nobody else will see this and it’s only so when the child is calm, they can see what their behavior looked like. Better yet would be a mirror or something more in-the-moment. Recording with a phone is specifically for providing feedback when the child is able to hear it – and it’ll still be more likely to upset them and create a longer tantrum. Think about it? When you’re very upset, do you want someone recording you? Even if it’s “so you can watch yourself later?”

The only other scenario I can think of where recording your child during a tantrum would make sense is if you feel there’s a real medical issue occurring during the tantrum. I’m not just talking about threats to self/others – that’s very common with kids during tantrums. I mean specifically they have seizures or ticks, perhaps their eyes roll back in their heads or have other strange behaviors that might be helpful to show a pediatrician, mental health professional or psychiatrist. Taking notes would likely get the information to the professional without recording your child.

So, what to do during a tantrum?

There is no short, blog-sized bite of information to tackle this question but I’ll do my best.

  1. Parent’s need to stay calm! When parents get frustrated, overwhelmed or upset, this spirals the child even more. Sometimes yelling or making threats can get a child to calm down quickly but they do so out of fear and will not help in the long-term. If you need to take a break and it’s safe to do so, then do that! 5 deep breaths can work wonders so you can respond skillfully to your child.

  2. Connect. In that moment of a tantrum, it’s ok to connect with your child. Validate their feelings. Validation does not mean giving permission. “You’re upset that I took the ipad” is not the same as “You can have the idad back”. Naming their feelings can help them connect to their more logical brain (wizard brain) and not stay so long in their tantrum brain (lizard brain). As helpful adults that care about the child, it’s partly our job to give them the language – VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS!

  3. Assess. Before moving on to Redirect – assess the child for their readiness to hear next steps, consequences etc. Is their breathing slowing down? Are they able to listen and hear what you’re saying? Are they acting respectfully in whatever place you’re in?

  4. Redirect. This is when you problem-solve and figure out next steps. What are we going to do about this? Are you ready to be mature in the store? How do you want to move forward?

  5. Reinforce. Make sure the child knows exactly what happened and the consequence that occurred. “You got upset that you couldn’t use the ipad in the grocery store. You weren’t acting maturely in the store so we left and had to wait in the parking lot until your body/mind calmed down. What would happen if we went back in and you did the same thing? That’s right! We would leave and sit in the car again.”