Pre-School Listings

- Dealing With Temper Tantrums



 Some children throw tantrums and some never do. Children, who throw tantrums, do so as a way of expressing anger and frustration. If the tantrums are dealt with in the wrong way, the child may learn that throwing tantrums gain attention and can be used to manipulate people. When it comes to dealing with tantrums, the ultimate goal is to educate the child on acceptable ways of expressing their anger.



When your child is in the throes of a tantrum:

a) Do NOT punish the child.
b) Do NOT reward the child.
c) Remain calm and ignore the behavior completely if possible.
d) Keep the child safe.
e) If possible, isolate the child.
f) Do not let the comments and/or disapproval of other people affect your response to the tantrum.

    While your child is throwing a tantrum, he/she is essentially out of control. You need to make sure that you remain firmly in control. Punishing the child for throwing a tantrum, by shouting or smacking for example, worsens the tantrum in the short term and prolongs the behavior in the long term. Giving into the child’s demands in attempt to stop the tantrum is even worse. This will result in teaching the child to use tantrums for manipulation, and will in turn cause the behavior to continue indefinitely, even into adulthood.




If the child throws a tantrum in public, remove him/her out of the public area if possible, then take him/her to a place private. The best place would be the car, where he/she can be strapped into his/her car seat. You can either stand near the car or sit in the car and wait patiently without reacting to the tantrum. When the tantrum subsides, discuss the behaviour with the child, and then return to your activities.
At times it will not be possible for you to escape from the public place easily. You may find it hard to escape if you are standing in a long check-out line at the grocery store with a trolley of groceries. In a situation like this, all you can do is bite your bottom lip and hang on. Ignore the screaming child. Ignore the comments from the people around you who are now staring in disbelief. Keep yourself in control, breathe in deep. (Anyway, a screaming child in a queue at the till generally speeds things up, so your child is pretty much doing everyone a favour.) Once you have made your escape, confront the child about his/her behavior.



 When the child throws a tantrum at home, calmly take him/her to a place where he/she can be left safely in solitude, such as a cot or a playpen. Then exit the room, shutting the door behind you, and do not return until he/she has calmed down. Once the child is calm, sit down with him/her and have a talk with the about their behavior. If you’re not comfortable leaving the child alone, stay with the child, but do not respond to their tantrum in any way. Even if you have to avoid eye contact.




    Once your child has calmed down, you need to have a talk right away while the memories of the episode are still fresh in their mind. He/She threw the tantrum because they were angry or frustrated. Do not get into the issue of why he/she was angry or frustrated, try to concentrate only on the tantrum itself, explaining to the child that the behavior is inappropriate. Then explain to them what they should do instead when they feel angry. This will work with children of any age, even toddlers. Toddlers understand far more than they are able to express.
    First thing to do is to describe the behavior: “You felt angry and you threw a tantrum. You were screaming, throwing things, and kicking the walls.” You say this to confirm that the child will understand exactly what you are talking about and that you are both on the same page.
    Continue by further explaining how tantrums are not proper behavior. Make sure that you are clear that the act (tantrum) is bad, not the child. “Tantrums are not appropriate behavior. We do not scream and throw things and kick. That is not acceptable.” This will have an impact on the child, because your child wants to do the right thing. You help by explaining that tantrums are the wrong thing.
    Then proceed to provide the child with some alternatives: “I know you felt angry. When you are angry, what you do rather is say, ‘I’m angry!’ Can you say that?” Have the child repeat the phrase after you.
    Then review what you have said. “What are you going to say next time you’re angry?” Get him/her to repeat the phrase, “I’m angry!” Then ask, “Next time you’re angry, are you going to scream?” The child will probably say or indicate “no.” “Next time you’re angry, are you going to throw things?” “Next time you’re angry, are you going to kick?” Then conclude with, “Tell me again what you’re going to do next time you’re angry.”

    You will have to repeat this discussion many times as it takes a while for a child to learn how to control a temper tantrum.



    You may notice after awhile that certain settings and circumstances seem to precipitate your child’s tantrums like the shelves at the till…
    You can prevent tantrums from taking place by talking to the child well in advance. Explain to the child what you are about to do. (”We’re going out to have Lunch.”) Then tell the child what kind of behavior you expect from them, putting your expectations in positive terms. (”At the restaurant, we’re going to behave ourselves. That means we will be polite, speak quietly, and use our words to ask for things and to say how we feel.”) After you have told the child what you want from them, tell them what you don’t want. (”We will not scream, throw things or kick. We do not do those things in public. It upsets people.”) This will inform the child of not only what behaviors to avoid, but why to avoid them. Then get the child to agree to this by saying, “Now, tell me how you’re going to behave when we go out. Are you going to speak quietly?” The child should indicate “yes.” “Are you going to use your words?” “Yes.” “Are you going to scream or throw things or kick?” “No.” Then say, “That’s great! We’ll have a good time!” Run through this every time you plan to go out, because if you forget, the child could revert to tantrums in that environment!
    If your child tends to throw tantrums in the shops after you refuse the child’s demand for sweets, you can often avert the tantrum by making a game out of the child’s demand, as follows:
    Child: “I want candy!
    You: “I want a rocket ship to Mars.”
    Child: “Give me candy!”
    You: “Give me a rocket ship to Mars.”
    Child: “Give me candy!”
    You: “I’ll give you candy if you give me a rocket ship to Mars.”
    Child: “Here.” (Pretending to hand you something.)
    You: “Here.” (Pretending to hand the child something.)
    Child: “But this isn’t real.”
    You: “What you gave me wasn’t real, either.”
    Child: “But I don’t have a real rocket ship!”
    You: “Well, I guess you’re out of luck, then!”

   It’s good for a child to learn that it’s okay to want things, but it doesn’t mean that a person always gets what he/she wants.

    Another way of handling the grocery store tantrum is to discuss treats with the child in advance. Tell the child where you are going, and what kind of sweet, if any, the child can expect to receive at the shop. You might say something like, “When we go to the shops, you can choose one sucker, any flavor you like, as a treat.” Make it clear that one sucker is all the child will get. If you don’t want the child to get a treat that specific day, you should inform the child of this ahead of time. A child will often accept not getting a treat if told beforehand. But make sure that whatever you tell the child before the trip to the store, you stick with it!

Be patient and good luck!


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