Tips and tools for dealing with temper tantrums
Some kids just seem to be born with bigger feelings than others. When they’re happy, they’re really happy. When they’re sad, they’re really sad. And when they’re mad, they are really really mad. It can be difficult to diffuse the energy when big feelings turn into tantrums. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help manage the situation.
How to help your child during a temper tantrum:
- Make sure your child is OK.
- Be OK with making a scene.
- Stay calm and be present.
- Resist the urge to argue.
- Do not place demands you aren’t prepared to enforce.
- Only provide reinforcement for positive behavior.
- Teach your child to manage strong feelings.
- Get help if your child is really struggling.
What does that all entail? Keep reading for detailed advice on each tactic.
1. Make sure your child is OK.
Sometimes kids throw tantrums when they have trouble finding the words to explain what’s wrong. Check to see if your child is hurt, sick, wet, hungry, or tired. If one of these is the culprit, addressing the issue may resolve the tantrum.
2. Be OK with making a scene.
It’s easy to feel embarrassed with your kiddo is making a scene in public. It’s important to learn to let that go, though, in order to be present. If your energy gets elevated during a tantrum, things can escalate quickly. Try to avoid thinking about whether or not other people are observing the situation, and focus on your child instead.
3. Stay calm and be present.
If you are prepared to handle a meltdown, it is likely you will remain calm and clear in your communication. Try saying things like, “No, you cannot have that today,” calmly and quietly. If your child’s tantrum continues, you may have to leave the public place. Try to leave in a way that doesn’t embarrass your child. If you’re in a grocery store, you may have to abandon your groceries for the time being. Don’t worry; it happens!
4. Resist the urge to argue.
Stay calm and never engage in dialogue with a screaming child. It’s especially tough with older kids who are bigger and louder, but try to resist the urge. Don’t answer. Just remain calm and say you’ll be happy to talk when they are ready to speak in a kind voice.
5. Do not place demands you aren’t prepared to enforce.
If your child asks for a toy train and you can afford to get it, you may decide to say “yes” to avoid enduring a tantrum. If you decide to take this route, you must respond this way before a tantrum begins. Changing your mind and giving in halfway through will enforce the undesired behavior. Yes, you are offering the child what they want. However, you are not letting their behavior dictate the rules. This approach puts you in charge.
6. Only provide reinforcement for positive behavior.
If your child asks nicely, you may decide to get them a toy. If they scream and cry for the toy, try gently saying, “I will wait until you can ask nicely.” Or, “When you are calm, we can finish shopping and go to the park.” Regardless of what happens next, stay present, and do not provide attention if the tantrum continues.
7. Teach your child to manage strong feelings.
A good book for a child having temper tantrums is, Soda Pop Head. The story describes a child who is always about to ‘blow his lid’ over incidents with peers and siblings. He learns to use strategies like the ‘push, pull, dangle’ muscle relaxation strategy to calm down. As he calms down, he lets a little pressure out of the ‘bottle’ so he does not blow his lid. This book can help ‘externalize’ the blame and help your child learn effective calming techniques.
8. Get help if your child is really struggling.
Do not feel pressured to tackle tantrums alone. Research shows that children who throw tantrums often respond well to behavioral intervention. Consider looking into ABA therapy as a starting point. Behaviors need to be addressed in the moment with providers who have or are supervised by a clinician who has a Board Certification in Behavior Analysis (BCBA). Consider also meeting with a psychologist to determine if your child has underlying emotional symptoms. Don’t hesitate to seek parent consultation therapy as well; tantrum behaviors are hard, and you may need support.
For some families, tantrums are just part of the day-to-day for a while. Don’t dismay, though. Creating boundaries and committing to them will help you get through this time. So will practicing positive reinforcement and learning to let go of your own embarrassment. You will get through this! And if you need support, we are here to help.
The Clear Child Psychology Team
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