Turning a Tantrum into a Teachable Moment

As salamu aleycum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu, 🙂

This article is a nick out from Muslimas Oasis which i absolutely and utterly wanted to save – and what better place for it than my own personal blog! 😀


It started as a breakthrough of sorts, Madam, who will have a panic attack at the mere suggestion of new movies or even new episodes of old favorites like Thomas and Friends, or even old episodes we haven’t seen in a while, that same Madam, wanted to watch a movie that many children would find frightening. She’s always had a sort of upside down sense of fear, some conventionally scary things scare her, but usually it’s the mundane that frightens her and she doesn’t seem to mind a lot of scary things (relatively speaking of course, she is 5).

So, at her request, of course, I put on ‘How to train your dragon’ excited and interested to see her reaction, watching very closely for often invisible and denied signs of anxiety, prepared to turn it off if the anxiety levels got too high (I want to push her comfort levels, but not to the point of vomiting for the rest of the day, as has happened many times before).

Alas, Little Brother (3, not on spectrum as far as we know) wouldn’t have it. It was him that ran out of the room screaming in a panic this time. So I turned it off and calmed him down while Madams meltdown over the movie being turned off escalated.

I’m not sure how but at some point thereafter I was sitting on the couch while both children cried loudly and took turns screaming at each other. I just watched, and laughed at the ridiculousness and helplessness of the situation, this was in many ways an unusual presentation of a very usual and common experience in our home, what could I do? Here’s a 3 year old whose language and reasoning is still quite basic, who needs things spelled out slowly and clearly, and a 5 year old who has great difficulty understanding empathy and thus, understanding why we can’t watch a movie that terrifies her little brother. Who do I calm down first? How do I resolve a meltdown that is centered on an Aspergian childs lack of understanding Empathy? I didn’t know where to start.

I waded into the screaming and switched on a YouTube clip of Elmo singing ABC with India Arie, they both like this one (I have it saved on the computer) got down to little brothers level and explained what I was turning on and that there would be no more dragons, sat him on the couch with Blankie and Dog (Toy) while I whisked Madam away to the bedroom to try and convince her to breathe deeply and find her calm.

So there I was down at her level, trying to hold onto my own calm, and there she was, still screaming and crying because she simply didn’t understand. When it hit me, I would use this opportunity to teach empathy, at least, I’d try. So I sat her on her bed for the lesson. Because we homeschool we have a big whiteboard on the bedroom wall and lots of colorful whiteboard markers. She calmed down somewhat when she saw what I was doing, Madam’s fierce love of learning and brilliant mind is always a most valuable tool for me as First Teacher, and is an immense gift when trying to teach her to cope with the more difficult side of Aspergers (the “issues”).

I explained as I drew 2 stick figures, one with long hair, one with short (Madam and Little brother) that each of us has our own bodies, and inside our bodies, we each feel our own feelings, and that everyones feelings are different. I drew a computer (we don’t have a TV so the computer is where movies are watched) next to each figure and wrote a phrase above each.

Above Madams computer “Let’s watch Lion King” (a source of anxiety for her), I asked Madam how it makes her feel when I say that, “Scared, Worried, Sad.” I wrote these words down under the computer. Then we talked about what her body feels like and labeled her stick figure; from the eyes ‘Cry’ from the mouth ‘Scream’ from the heart ‘Heart beats fast’ from the stomach ‘Stomach hurts’, from the legs ‘Run away’.

I then went to little brothers computer and wrote “Let’s watch dragons” (referring to the movie I’d just turned off that frightened him which was the source of Madams meltdown). I asked Madam how she thinks Little Brother might feel when I say that? “Scared, Very Worried, Sad”, I wrote this list under his computer. Next we discussed how he may feel inside his body, we labeled his body, led by Madam, much the same way as hers was labeled.

She got it, she calmed down, she perked up, she understood. Breakthrough. They say people with Aspergers “lack empathy”, I know this to be very wrong, they may have trouble understanding and expressing empathy, but they lack nothing.

We summarised and talked further about how each person has their own body and feels different things inside their body, about how when Madam is feeling one thing, Little brother may be feeling something completely else. I drew an arrow from Madam to “Let’s watch dragons” with the word happy and explained that it makes her feel happy, and drew an arrow from Little Brother to the same sentence and explained that it makes him feel scared.

Madam wanted to know what I felt in my body when she wanted to watch something I did not want her to watch. I drew myself a stick figure with “Let’s watch birds” (referring to a YouTube clip I don’t like) next to it. I explained that it doesn’t make me feel anything in particular in my body, I just don’t like it. So I drew an arrow from my head “Don’t think it’s nice.”

Madam has asked about the Dragon movie since then but accepts that we can’t watch it while Little Brother is around because it frightens him. Little Brother is still (a few days later) feeling anxious about the Dragons, especially when new things are put on for them to watch (i.e. documentaries he’s never seen) but he does not have meltdowns or severe anxiety reactions so I am able to calm him down quickly.

In preparation for the hereafter.



1 thought on “Turning a Tantrum into a Teachable Moment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s