BEST STARTS FOR KIDS

Managing Tantrums

  • Tantrums are a natural response for children expressing an emotion they can't convey in words

  • Tantrums can be best managed if you don't emotionally engage & remain calm

  • Tantrums may persist, because at some time in the child's life, they've worked well

  • Efforts to use words to solve problems should always be encouraged

  • At some point children need to learn to self-regulate, otherwise tantrums can persist into adulthood

  • Supply a new script for a child so they see themselves as maturing. E.g. "Now you're big you can use your words because then I know how to help you."

  • Be forgiving. Children are trialing what works for them

  • The less rewarding tantrums become the more likely children will trial using other strategies

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

 

1. Try either/or options.

Speak calmly. Use phrases that offer choice like:

'Would you like ... (this) or ... (that)? (Offer a choice they can point to.)

Suggest appropriate behaviour

If they're already able to talk try something like 'Use your words please, then I know exactly what you want.'

Limit set & build relationship

'I'd like to help you but I can't understand you at the moment. Was it ... or ... ? If you tell me I can help you?' (Even a single word gives you a clue whereas screaming/crying doesn't.)

The best tip for managing 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.

Scenario Example:

Think of ways of changing a difficult routine

For example: It's time leave Nana's. Your child has had a really great time and they'd like it to continue. So, distract them. (Pack the car ahead of time.)

 

Distract: Ask a fun question.

'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.

Can you adapt this strategy to another difficult situation in your life?

2. Try moving your child away from attention.

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, you could try something like:

Diffusing tension

'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.)

Building Relationship through Empathy

If they're sad pat them and say something like 'I understand you're sad. Do you want to tell me about it?'

3. If at home attempt a resolution twice. Don't engage further if they choose to vent. Ensure they're safe. Remove the audience (that being you.) Encourage any attempt they make to communicate using words.

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, refusing to go to their room, get them a pillow for under their head to prevent them from hurting themselves.

4. Reward for doing the right thing.

If your child makes an effort to communicate with you, say something like:

Try moving on

'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.

5. Move on quickly. Forgive.

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.

6. Tell them what you expect

Assuming your child is around three and in a safe environment, you could say something like:

Limit Setting

'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 keep them within your view to ensure their safety. But ideally make sure they don't know you're there.

7. Avoid an audience

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.

8. Be consistent, every time, so kids learn tantrums no longer work.

 

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. It's having this same four year old still losing it with you at five, then six then eight, then fifteen...

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 giving them a pay off.

 

That is: getting your attention by having a tantrum.

10. Praise your child for having greater self-control.

If children are rewarded for using language to solve their problems, and learn to express their needs in socially acceptable ways the new behaviour is more likely to continue.

 

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 major behaviour issues turned around within 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:

9. Help your child learn to self-regulate.

  • Encourage your child to take in three deep breaths to feel better and 'try to use their words.'

  • 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:

Maintaining consistency & integrity

'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...

Encourage communication skills

Using your words might have worked much 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...

Relationship building

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.'

Where possible I made the alternative as good or better, reinforcing to the child I had their interests at heart.

Young children often reduce tantrums as their language levels improve. For ideas to help improve your young child's language go to:

If your child is older than four and they're still having tantrums, the boxes below identify different tips to help. Begin with 'Why spend positive time together.' You could work through the topics, they all have something different to offer.

Or check out Tool Kit: Managing Difficult Behaviour 1

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