Everyone who has ever parented a young child knows the feeling… that queasy combination of anger, embarrassment, concern, guilt, and inadequacy when their child throws a temper tantrum. As unpleasant this experience can be at home, coping with a child’s temper tantrum in a public place can be a particularly anxiety-provoking experience.
Temper tantrums typically consist of crying, whining, complaining, resisting, arguing, shouting, running or hitting. Most children between the ages of 1 and 4 throw tantrums, at least once in a while. It is estimated that over 50% of children will have at least one tantrum every week.
Thankfully, temper tantrums, in most cases, are a part of normal development, and do dwindle with age. Even so, there are certain things we can do as parents to reduce the frequencies of tantrums, and to help our children come “out of” them when they do occur.
The best “intervention” for a temper tantrum is prevention. By knowing our children’s tendencies, and identifying frustrating or troubling events or situations ahead of time, we can better act to avoid tantrums.
Here are some tried and true methods for avoiding and coping with tantrums:
- Whenever possible, reward children for their positive behavior rather than their negative behavior. For example, try to attend to your child as soon as possible when he asks nicely for your attention, rather then making him scream for it.
- Be very direct about your expectations before a tamper-inducing event occurs. Set reasonable limits and stick to them. For example: “If you do as you are told and stay with me in the store, we will go for ice cream later. If you do not do as you are told or if you run off in the store, there will be no ice cream and you will not go out to play tonight.”
- Do not ask your children to do something that they must do anyway. Do not ask, “Shall we get ready for bed now?” Instead, say “It is time to get ready for bed now.”
- When it is appropriate to give them control, allow your children to choose between activities (“Do you want to brush your teeth, or listen to a story first?”)
- We all have certain items in our homes that are off limits to small children, generally due to safety issues (knives, tools, computer, etc.).It is best practice to keep things that are off-limits “out of site and out of mind”. This way, we can avoid temptation and power struggles.
- The same can be said for certain places or events in the community. If your child regularly throws a tantrum in the grocery store, it might be better to leave them at home with an adult or older child while you run errands.
- Establish routines, create structure and time lines in your home. Children are less likely to act out if they know what is expected next.
*When a tantrum does occur, either at home or in the community:
- Remain calm and don’t get into an argument. Before you can manage your child, you must manage your own behavior.
- Think before you act or speak.
- Try to intervene before the child is out of control. Get down at your child’s eye level and say “You are starting to act out of control, you need to calm down”.
- Once you have his attention, there are many things you can try to break the tantrum cycle:
- Introduce a positive or acceptable activity, something that is appropriate and will get your child’s mind off of whatever caused the tantrum.
- Remove the child to a “time out” or calming area.
- If you are confident that the tantrum is designed to gain your attention, you can ignore it until the child’s energy level subsides. Then re-engage with the child to talk about what happened and what consequences may occur.
- If the tantrum escalates beyond the point where you can intervene, you may need to physically direct or move the child to time out, particularly if they are in danger of harming themselves or others. As a general rule, the duration of a time-out should be no more than 1 minute for every year of the child’s age.
In most cases, occasional tantrums are a part of normal development. If you are concerned that your child’s temper tantrums seem excessive either in intensity or duration, you should consult your child’s physician or school psychologist or mental health worker, to determine if further assessment is needed.
Tantrums are a natural and even necessary part of every child’s development. By being proactive and responding appropriately, there is much you as a parent can do to promote positive behavior and reduce tantrums for your children.
Harrington, R. G. (2004) Temper Tantrums: Guidelines for Parents, National Association of School Psychologists
Sloane, H.N. (1988) The Good Kid Book, Research Press
More information on this topic is available on the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) official website: www.naspcenter.org
Or, contact Joel Bartholomay, School Psychologist at:
Battle Lake School
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