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Managing Tantrums

But sometimes despite the best laid plans tantrums can't be avoided.

Tantrums and screaming can be best managed if you don't emotionally engage and remain calm.


For example: During difficult times with young children speak calmly. Use phrases like: 'Would you like ... (this) or ... (that)? (Offer a choice they can point to.)


If they're already able to talk try something like 'Use your words please,' (rather than scream or cry.) 'I'd like to help you but I can't understand you at the moment. Was it ... or ... ? Can you please tell me then I can help you?' (Even a single word gives you a clue whereas screaming/crying doesn't.)

If your child makes an effort to communicate with you, say something like 'That's fantastic. Now I know what you want because you used your words. Let's go and get it now.'


(Reward for doing the right thing... Problem solved.)


Be positive. Let your child realize being cooperative pays off for them. Don't be angry. Having tantrums is a natural part of maturing. Get over the issue as quickly as possible so that children don't get locked into tantrums for attention.

Assuming your child is around three and in a safe environment, you could say something like, 'I'm sorry I can't help you at the moment. If you want to come and show/tell me in a minute what you want, I can help you then.'  And walk away. You can them keep within your view to ensure their safety. But ideally make sure they don't know you're there.

If out, bundle them under your arm and get out of there. It's so much easier to manage a tantrum without an audience. I knew a child once who only threw tantrums when out, because her mother would be embarrassed and give in.

Something to consider is: If you feel negligent by walking away from your four year old child and their tantrum, (after you've attempted twice to help them,) by staying you're reinforcing them to continue to tantrum.

At some point in your child's development your child needs to learn to self regulate.


One of the statements I successfully used over and over again with children from four years on (after a tantrum was over and they'd calmed down a bit) was:


'If I let you think it's okay to behave like that I'm not being a good mother/ teacher. And you know I want to be the best  I can be for you... Do you think using your words might have worked better for you? That way I'd have known exactly what you wanted and you know I'd give it to you if I could... I know sometimes it's disappointing when our turn is over/ we don't get to do everything we want/ have to go home/etc. But there will be another time and we might get our turn then, or maybe we might even get something better.' And I often made the alternative better that it would have been otherwise, reinforcing that the child concerned could have faith in me.

The easiest way to manage a tantrum is to avoid it in the first place. If you know that a particular issue is likely to be upsetting  try to distract your child before it becomes an issue.

For example: If it's time to go home from Nana's and your child has had a really great time and they'd like it to continue, distract them. (First pack the car ahead of time.) You could say something like: Do you think Nan is strong enough to push our car? I wonder if you can beat me to the car first to find out. Come on Nan, you can't beat us...'


Nan can say something like 'Oh the car's not heavy enough.' Why don't you all get in to make it heavier. Nan can then pretend to 'push' the front of the car as it reverses down the driveway (obviously away from her.) Your child will likely be laughing instead of crying. This can change a stressful event into a new fun routine way of leaving.

N.B. (The way your child responds gives you a clue as to whether they want a resolution or to vent.) If they want to vent and they keep going, you could try something like 'You seem a bit over-tired at the moment. How about you have a lie down,' (rather than continue to escalate a situation with a child who has lost it.) And put them to bed in their room. (You might be surprised how often they really are tired and will fall asleep... Losing it takes a lot of energy.) If they're sad pat them and say something like 'I understand you're sad. Do you want to tell me about it?' If they're angry say something like 'I can understand you're feeling a bit cross at the moment. Do you want to tell me about it?'

If at home (and you've already tried a couple of times to find out what's wrong) and your child is throwing themselves around in a tantrum and refuses to go to their room, get them a pillow for under their head to prevent them from hurting themselves.

Some children never grow out of tantrums, or screaming to get their way, because it works really well for them.


But I've found there's one thing much worse than dealing with a four year old who continually loses it on you. It's having this same four year old still losing it with you at five, then six then eight, then fifteen... And continuing to do so.

Is it possible it's better for children to be rewarded for using language to solve their problems, and learn to express their needs in socially acceptable ways as soon as possible, rather than parents guessing?


The ability to use words to resolve our problems is of great benefit to us in life. And I've found if children can express themselves clearly, they're often inclined to have less tantrums.

I've seen serious behaviour issues turned around in less than six weeks, time and time again, by consistently and calmly following some of the strategies I've suggested.

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For more Best Parenting Advice linked to behavioural strategies go to the following links:

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Why Natural Consequences?
The Value of Natural Consequences
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