The 411 on Tantrums

Temper tantrums usually occur between the ages of 1-3 and are typically common in both boys and girls.  Children might throw tantrums because they are seeking attention or cannot get what they want.  In addition, they also might throw a tantrum because they are hungry, tired, or in discomfort.  Tantrums are common during a child’s life when the child is acquiring language and trying to complete more things on his own.  A child typically understands more than he can communicate and not being able to express his needs/wants can result in a tantrum.  Once language increases and improves, the amount of tantrums seen can decrease.  Children’s temperaments are very different and can influence how often a child has a tantrum.  Some children exhibit many, where other children have few.  Just like adults, children have differing personalities that are evident even as early as toddlers, which explains why they handle situations in different ways.  For example, some children get frustrated easily where others are more relaxed and are able go with the flow.  Below are helpful tips to address and avoid tantrums.

Great Techniques to Address Tantrums:

  • Remain calm.  Getting frustrated and screaming back will only escalate the situation.  Remember to talk calmly with your child and explain why he cannot have or cannot do something.  You can also try to redirect the conversation and talk about something else.
  • Intervene ASAP.  If you see that your child is getting upset, try to calm him down by encouraging him to take deep breaths, count to ten. Or redirect him to a different activity or conversation.
  • Use a Quiet Space.  Create a quiet space that your child can go to in order to calm down and relax when he is upset.  In this quiet area, you can also include different calming activities/items (i.e., stuffed animals, blanket, quiet/soothing music).
  • Ignore.  If the tantrum is being thrown to gain your attention, withhold your attention while the child is exhibiting a tantrum.  However, still monitor the child to make sure that he is not hurting himself and others.  Once the child has calmed down, have the child appropriately ask for your attention, and then give your attention.
  • Give a Timeout.  If your child is not able to calm down with the above suggestions then he might need to have a timeout.  Remember timeouts can be done both in the home and out in public.
  • Don’t respond differently.  Be consistent in how you are addressing tantrums.  If a tantrum at home would typically result in a timeout, then continue to use the same consequences while out.  Timeouts can be given in the aisle of a store, at a table at a restaurant, on park benches or even on a sidewalk.  If you start to address tantrums differently because you are in public, this will give your child the idea that he can behave differently when he is not in the house.
  • Don’t give in.  Don’t ever give into your child’s tantrum or try to offer him a bribe.  Giving in or bribing your child will only result in your child throwing tantrums more often in order to get what he wants.  You want to make sure that you are consistent with addressing and handling tantrums.  Saying something like, “If you stop whining and get off the floor, you can get a candy bar.” will only result in your child throwing more tantrums to gain access to preferred items.
  • Talk.  After your child has regained his composure, talk about what just happened.  Together you and your child should identify more appropriate ways to handle the situation in the future.  As a parent, you want to teach your child how to appropriately ask for help or something he needs/wants, how to appropriately ask for a break or time alone if he needs it, and how to express his feelings with words.

Helpful Strategies to Avoid Tantrums:

  • Catch him being good.  Provide positive praise and reinforcement when your child is appropriately interacting and engaging.
  • Offer Choices.  Offer your child choices so that he is able to make decisions and have control.  For example, you can give your child the choice to have an apple or banana for snack.
  • Practice out of sight, out of mind.  When possible remove items/activities that are not a choice or are off limit.  Removing these items can help avoid a battle and tantrum.
  • Make sure it’s age appropriate.  Offer your child items and toys that are age appropriate.  You want to set up the environment so that your child can succeed and does not become frustrated and upset with things for which he is not old enough or ready.
  • Set limits.  Be aware of your child’s limits and behaviors.  If it is getting close to lunch time and your child is getting hungry, it might be best to head home or get a snack instead of trying to run more errands.

If possible try to set the stage and environment to avoid tantrums, but realistically this is not always going to be do-able.  If a tantrum arises, remember to keep calm and utilize the above strategies to help address and alleviate the tantrum.  If you feel like tantrums are increasing in frequency, intensity, or duration, or if your child is hurting himself or others and is being destructive, then you should seek outside help from a Behavior Therapist to address your child’s behavior.  In addition, you should seek help if you have questions about what you or your child are doing, you feel uncomfortable with how you are handling the situation or feel out of control, and if you keep giving into the tantrums.

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