3 Ways to Handle Your Child’s Temper Tantrum
As a parent, temper tantrums are one of the most stressful and frustrating things you’ll have to deal with, especially once your child hits the terrible twos. However, according to child psychologists, most children don’t throw a tantrum just to be naughty or manipulative. Rather, the screaming is a symptom of the child’s anger and frustration when they don’t have the vocabulary to explain what’s really wrong with them. Therefore, staying calm and learning to identify what is really bothering your child will help you to handle the situation quickly and effectively.
Method 1 - Talking it Through
- Remain calm enough to handle the tantrum properly. The worst thing parents can do is have a temper tantrum over their child’s temper tantrum. Children need a calming influence, especially during a tantrum, and if you can’t provide that, you can’t expect them to calm down. Take a few deep breaths and wait at least a few seconds before deciding on a response.
- Make sure the child has what he or she needs. Remember that your child’s tantrum is not necessarily a way to “get his/her way”, but could be the result of frustration, lack of needed attention from you, or even a physical problem, like low blood sugar, pain or digestive problems. Maybe your child is teething, has a dirty diaper, or needs a nap. In cases like these, don’t try to negotiate with the child, but simply provide what is needed and the tantrum will subside.
- It’s very common for kids to throw tantrums when they’re sleepy. A regularly-scheduled naptime can help prevent recurring tantrums if this seems to be the problem.
- When you’re out and about with your child, have a healthy snack available at all times, so he or she doesn’t end up throwing a tantrum out of hunger.
Ask what’s wrong. Kids just want to be heard, and throwing a tantrum is often the best way they know how to express themselves. Taking your child seriously by asking what’s wrong and actually listening to the response can help. Hold your child and give him or her your full attention so he or she has time to explain.
- This is not to say that you need to give in to whatever your child wants. The point is simply to hear your child out in a respectful way, just as you would anyone else. Whether your child wants a new toy or doesn’t want to go to school, he or she should have the right to express that.
Give clear explanations instead of just saying “no.” Many parents just say “no” and “because I said so” instead of explaining the reason why, but that’s frustrating for kids. You don’t have to give a long-winded explanation, but providing a reason for your actions will help the child make sense of things and feel more in control of the situation.
- For example, if you’re in the grocery store and your child throws a tantrum because he/she wants sugary cereal, remind him/her that he/she likes oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, so there’s no need to buy cereal, too.
Offer your child a choice of coping strategies. For example, your son/daughter wants ice cream, but it’s too close to dinner. Say: “Johnny/Alexis, you’re really getting upset now. Calm down or you’ll have to go to your room.” You have given him/her a choice: either control himself or, if he can’t, retreat to a place where he/she won’t influence others. If he/she makes the right choice (to calm down), remember to compliment him/her: “You asked for ice cream and I said no. I want to thank you for taking no for an answer.”
- Conversely, have consequences and enforce them if he chooses to get upset. Guide him/her to his room and firmly insist that he remain there until he calms down, for example. This is easier with a two-year-old than with an eight-year-old, so the younger you begin the learning process the better.
- Hold your ground. Be empathetic but firm when you talk with your child, and once you’ve given a calm explanation, don’t back down. Your child may or may not calm down right away, but he or she will remember that throwing a tantrum doesn’t lead to satisfactory results. Next time your child wants something, he or she will be less likely to throw a tantrum.
Take steps to prevent injury. Some children can become quite animated during a tantrum. If this occurs, remove dangerous objects from the child’s path or steer the child away from danger.
- Try to avoid restraining a child during a tantrum, but sometimes this is necessary and comforting. Be gentle (do not use excessive force), but hold him or her firmly. Speak reassuringly to the child, especially if the tantrum is the result of disappointment, frustration, or unfamiliar surroundings.
Don’t lose your own temper. It’s important to model the behavior you want to see for your child. If you lose it and start yelling and throwing an adult-style tantrum of your own, your child will see this type of behavior as something that’s acceptable at your house. It’s not easy to do, but staying calm and collected is the best thing you can do for yourself and your child. Take a few minutes to cool off by yourself if you need to. Get your spouse or other responsible person to look after the child while you calm down. Put your child in his or her room with a gate in front of the door if necessary.
- Do not spank or yell at your child. Losing control of yourself in this way will only make your child feel confused and scared of you. It won’t lead to a healthy and trusting relationship.
- Modeling good ways to communicate and handle frustration within your relationship with your partner is also important. Avoid fighting in front of your child, or getting upset when you don’t get your way.
Help your child feel loved no matter what. Sometimes kids throw tantrums because they just want some extra love and attention. Withholding love is never a good policy when it comes to disciplining a child. No matter what, your child should know that you love him or her no matter what.
- Avoid berating your child or saying “I’m so disappointed in you” when he or she throws a tantrum.
- Hug your child and say “I love you,” even if you’re very frustrated with his or her behavior.
Method 2 - Trying Time Out (for Young Children)
- Use time out during a meltdown. Avoid trying to reason with any child who is in the middle of a full-blown tantrum. Give him or her time to vent. Instead, give the child phrases to express the emotions that they are experiencing. Say phrases like, “You must be really tired after such a long day,” or, “You must feel frustrated that you can’t have what you want right now.” This not only will help the child verbalize this later, but shows empathy without having to give in. At this point, you may find that your best option is giving the child space them until he or she calms down.
- Tell your child it’s “time out” or “quiet time”. If your toddler is having a complete meltdown, and there’s no way he or she will be responsive to a rational conversation, sometimes quiet time is the best method. Tell him or her it’s time to be quiet until he or she can calm down and feel better.
- Remain calm yourself to model good behavior for your child.
- Don’t use quiet time as a threat or punishment, but rather as a way to give your child space so he or she can calm down.
Place him or her in a safe spot.The child’s bedroom or another safe place in the house where you feel comfortable leaving him or her alone for a little while is best. The spot should be free of distractions such as a computer, TV or handheld video game. Choose a quiet, peaceful place that the child associates with feeling calm.
- Don’t lock the child in a room. This can be dangerous and will be interpreted as a punishment.
- Explain to the child that you will talk to him or her when he or she calms down. This will help your child to understand that you are ignoring her because her behavior is unacceptable, not because you don’t care about her. When the child calms down, fulfill your part of the bargain by discussing the tantrum and the child’s concerns.
Have a talk when it’s time. When your child is no longer having a fit, have a conversation about what happened. Without berating your child or taking an accusatory tone, ask why he or she was upset. Provide a clear explanation of your side of the story.
- It’s important not to treat your child as the enemy, even if you’re upset with him or her. Hug your child and speak lovingly even as you’re explaining that we can’t always get our way.
- Be consistent. Kids need structure in order to feel safe and in control of their lives. If they’re never sure what will happen if they behave a certain way, they’ll start acting out. Use “time out” or “quiet time” each time your child throws a tantrum. He or she will soon learn that screaming and kicking aren’t as effective as talking things through.
- Try the journaling time out trick. If you don’t feel comfortable putting your child in a different room or spot, you can still facilitate a time out of sorts by shifting your attention elsewhere. When your child throws a tantrum, tell him or her you’re going to write about it. Take out a journal and write down what happened and how you feel. Ask your child to tell you how he or she feels so you can write that down, too. Your child will want to be involved in what you’re doing, and will soon forget to scream and cry.
Method 3 - Knowing When to Get Professional Advice
- See if you’re getting through to your child. Different children respond to different disciplinary methods. Try a few different things and see what seems to work. If your child keeps throwing tantrums no matter what you do, you might want to get outside assistance from a doctor or therapist, who can provide more ideas that suit the specific needs of your child.
- See if the tantrums are related to an environmental factor. Certain environmental stimulants might be causing your child to have more tantrums than normal. Sometimes kids have a sensitivity to food (especially sugar), light, big crowds, music, or other factors that irritate them and cause them to break down in frustration.
- Observe the times when your child has tantrums, and see if you think the tantrums are connected to something in the environment. Take away the stimulant and see if that helps.
- Get professional advice if you’re having trouble figuring out what’s causing the tantrums.
- Set your child up to succeed, not to fail. For instance, if you know that it’s already been a long day and she hasn’t eaten since lunchtime, maybe wait until the next morning to go to the grocery store. If that’s not an option, try to engage your child while shopping, and get in and out quickly. Remember how small they are and that they’re just still learning to be patient!
- If you’re in a public place, sometimes the best solution is simply to leave, even if you have to carry your child kicking and screaming. Remain calm, and remember that your child is behaving from a place of huge emotions, not reason.
- With eye contact and in a normal pitched tone, say that you’ll listen after you have paid for the family shopping, saying names. For example, give the tot an item, saying this is what daddy likes, then put it on a conveyor belt and thank the checkout operator. Give the tot something, put it on conveyor belt, and thank her if she does it. Make her feel she’s done really well and smile, saying, “I love it when you help mommy.” Give her an affectionate smile.
- It should be noted that children with developmental difficulties may not always understand verbal instructions. Children with developmental challenges can sometimes even repeat back the instructions but still have difficulties turning those instructions into actions. If you experience this, try making a visual chart of what you would like to have happen. Cut pictures out of magazines or draw a chart with stick figures and go over it with the child. The child may understand better if he/she can see the pictures in addition to the verbal instructions.
- Final word, never yell at or speak harshly to your child when you want them to stop throwing a tantrum. Explain to them what they are doing, why you do not approve, and suggest another way to express themselves. For example, “Sean, you are screaming and hitting, and that’s not good. When you scream and hit, it makes other people very upset. I want you to stop screaming and hitting, and talk to me. I want to know what bothers you, but I can’t listen to your words if you are screaming.”
- A tantrum is not manipulation unless you let it become that. And often, the tantrum isn’t even really about what just happened most recently; it can be the release of pent-up frustration over days’ worth of the struggles of trying to do the right thing, and learning to be a socialized little person.
- Have a plan: When facing a trouble spot, such as the grocery store’s checkout counter, discuss the situation with your child ahead of time. For example: “(child’s name), the last few times we’ve had trouble at the checkout counter. From now on, here’s what we’ll do: When you get to the checkout counter, I’ll let you choose a package of gum IF you can behave yourself until then. If you scream and yell because you want more, then you won’t be able to have any gum. Now, (your child’s name), tell me what we’re going to do?” (Child should then repeat the directions back to you.) Once the plan is understood by both of you, there’s no need to explain it all again at checkout time. If (child’s name) behaves, he/she will be rewarded as planned; if not, he/she loses out. He/She already knows the rules.
- Each child is different and so is each situation/scenario. This isn’t the end-all, be-all answer. You, the parent, are in control. Keep your cool and keep calm. If you find yourself getting angry, annoyed, frustrated, irritated, etc. then try taking yourself outside of the situation first and calm down before you try calming an upset child.
- At some point, a child needs to accept no is no. However, if they are old enough to understand, explain why they shouldn’t behave that way.
- Don’t expect behavior that’s not age-appropriate. As the parent, you don’t have to accept rude or hurtful behaviors and you should set limits, but be aware of what is normal for the age of your child. Remember that the phases will pass, and your job is to guide and love your child through them, not to force them to the next phase.
- Don’t cave in just to avoid embarrassment, which also teaches the child to perform for a crowd. Although parents feel as though all eyes are upon them, when their child acts up in public, the reality is most onlookers are saying, “Go for it,” when they see parents setting reasonable limits for their child.
- Having a spoiled child can make things a lot worse for you if you are under quite a bit of pressure. For example, if you have the responsibility of paying bills and mortgage, a screaming toddler does not make life easier for you. Go to a place you feel like you can vent your anger out. Remember never under any circumstances vent your anger out on the child as your difficult circumstances are not the child’s fault.
- Never beat or abuse your child. If you choose to employ corporal punishment, do so calmly and responsibly. Always educate yourself on the laws regarding corporal punishment where you live beforehand.
- If you’ve tried the strategies listed in this article but you’re still experiencing frequent tantrums, it may be time to seek professional help in understanding your child and knowing how to work with him/her. Children with developmental or other difficulties may require the skills and expertise of a specialist. Explain to the professional what you and your child are experiencing. Take an article like this with you and show the professional what tactics you’ve been trying and tell how they’ve worked. The professional may have other suggestions or may recommend further evaluation.
- Don’t frequently rely on providing a distraction (like the gum) to get a young child out of a tantrum. Teach the child not to throw tantrums, and he or she will more quickly develop other coping mechanisms. However, some kids may have tantrums, due to being more excitable or emotional. Just like adults, some kids are calm, whereas others are more dramatic. A good tantrum releases pent-up energy, frustration, anger and other emotions. It’s natural. If you teach kids to “bottle up” their emotions, it creates adults who can’t express their feelings!
- Depending on the situation, if you need to put your child in “Time-Out” then do so. It is NEVER right to hit your child. Physically disciplining a child for their “tantrum” only teaches them to use physical force on others (slapping, kicking, punching, etc.)
- Never surrender to your child (during a tantrum), this is a sign that they have won and that they have control. Learn to handle them at home, and you will have fewer occasions to be embarrassed in a public place. You might try “giving in” to them on small issues, which gives them a feeling of greater control, thus reducing tantrums, when they see that being calm gets rewards!
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