July 7, 2019/
Pro Tips: Dealing With a Temper Tantrum
Screaming, kicking, falling to the floor, and in the case of older children, perhaps even cursing – the dreaded tantrum! Many parents overthink how to manage tantrums, or worse, give in to child’s rage because they just want the behavior to STOP!
But remember, a tantrum is just a form of communication and what you are seeing is a very clear message – “I do not like what is going on right now!” You often see tantrums more in children with poor or emerging verbal skills because it is much easier to throw a tantrum than it is to state, “I am not happy.” It’s important to remember that tantrums are 100% normal, especially in toddlers (and yes, teenagers, but that is a topic for a different day).
What can you do when a tantrum threatens or does happens? Here are a few tips.
- Respond calmly but firmly. There are many effective techniques to manage tantrums, but, no matter which technique you choose, keeping calm, and being firm sends your child this message – “I can handle this.”
- If the tantrum is a new behavior, consider planned ignoring. This means completely ignoring the behavior until the behavior ends. As soon as it ends jump right back into giving your child attention. This sends the message – “I will not reinforce the tantrum, but I will help you when you are calmer.”
- If tantrums occur at the same time every day, or during the same routines, consider what need the child is trying to get met. For example, daily tantrums just before dinnertime might be due to hunger. You may want to consider giving your child a small, healthy snack while dinner is being prepared. This prevents the cause of the tantrum.
- If tantrums have been occurring for a while, be prepared for things to get worse before they get better. Do not forget you are now messing with something that has worked very well for your child and some children will really push limits, even to the point of aggression and hurting themselves to continue to make this work. This is scary! It is also actually quite normal for human beings to escalate behavior when frustration increases, so try not to worry too much. Also be reassured, this worsening of behavior is usually temporary. Most children will stop in about a week, even less, especially if you stay calm and be firm!
- Help your child increase communication skills. The more empowered your child is to communicate, the less likely he or she is to tantrum.
- Praise, praise, praise your child when they were relatively calm, and would usually have had a tantrum. If your son usually screams and kicks at bedtime but this time he only yelled “no!” but then went to bed, tell him thank you for doing as he was told with just a little fuss. This really works!
- Give the child what they want during the tantrum. The message the child receives is very clear – “Tantrums give me what I want!”
- Take it personally. I guarantee you, your two-year-old is not acting out to get back at you or hurt your feelings. Your little one is just trying to get a need/want met.
- Feel as if you are not a good parent. Just remember, tantrums are a way for your child to communicate.
- Give up after a day or two. Tantrums take about a week or two to really go away if they have been going on for a while.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help. All children are different – some will have one tantrum, see it is not effective, and you will not see another for years. Other children have no problem with pushing buttons or simply have not developed the skills necessary to let you know what the problem is. Advice from teachers, speech therapists, pediatricians, and counselors can be very helpful in working through tantrums and other behavior problems.
*** You should definitely seek advice if –
- tantrums usually last hours instead of minutes
- tantrums occur most of the day
- your child is seriously hurting him/her self or others
- you are not able to manage your own emotional response to tantrums anymore and you feel you are depressed or might hurt your child
This blog post was written by Laura Skotarczak, Director of Genesis Community Support Services.