A Parent’s Survival Guide to Tantrums

Your young child is going through a change of volcanic proportion. You can see it coming, but you can’t do anything about it. The transformation, much like a volcano, involves growing noise and intensity.

It starts with the whining and whimpering. That’s when you say to yourself, “Okay, not so bad, if it stops now.” It’s hard to watch as a parent…especially when it goes way beyond the crabbiness threshold. The smoldering volcano, that is your child, erupts into nasty screaming, uncontrolled crying, and a full-fledged fit.

When your child blows up into a volcanic tantrum, it can be tough to keep yourself from having your own meltdown (especially if you’re in a public place in front of all those judgmental people who’ve forgotten their own childhoods or are so holier-than-thou with their own angelically calm kids in tow).

Temper tantrums are loud, annoying and embarrassing for every parent. That’s why you often react by getting angry or giving in. You feel controlled by your kid’s behavior.

It’s natural to feel ineffective and helpless when your child is out of control. You think you have to do something to stop the outburst. But what do you do?

First, you have to understand why tantrums happen.

The reasons for tantrums

Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. They’re equally common in boys and girls and usually occur between the ages of 1 to 4, but aren’t limited to toddlers. They’re a normal part of development and don’t have to be seen as something negative. Unlike adults, kids simply don’t have the same inhibitions or control.

Usually tantrums occur when children are seeking attention or are tired, hungry, afraid, or uncomfortable. In addition, tantrums are often the result of kids’ frustration with the world—they can’t get something (for example, an object or a parent) to do what they want. Frustration is an unavoidable part of their lives as they learn how people, objects, and their own bodies work.

Personally, I don’t think most tantrums are preventable. It’s natural for young children to have tantrums. After all, adults have them, too, when someone cuts us off in traffic. But we can impact how often and how long they go on by the way we respond to our children’s outbursts.

Tips to tame tantrums

Most importantly, don’t have your child-tantrumown tantrum. You don’t want to respond with the same energy as your 3-year-old. Remember, you are the adult. The extent to which you have made peace with the normal, though difficult, emotions of anger and frustration determines how calm, empathetic, and clear you can remain when your child has a tantrum.

Need a little encouragement? Parents magazine provides a few tips to stop the meltdown with younger children, particularly toddlers and kids under age 4:

  1. Give your child a squeeze—Some moms say that picking up your children during a tantrum and giving them a big hug works to make them feel safe and loved.
  2. Try a time-out—Children often don’t know how to pull themselves together without a little help from you. Just hold them and tell them to breathe deeply. We stay there until they calm down and you can talk to them about what happened.
  3. Ignore them—When you look the other way, they don’t get attention or what they want. Then, you can ask them to calm down.
  4. Give them some space—Sometimes a kid just needs to get his anger out. So let him! This approach works because it helps children learn how to vent in a nondestructive way. They’re able to get their feelings out, pull themselves together, and regain self-control, without engaging in a yelling match or battle of wills with you. This can work on its own or in tandem with the ignoring bit.
  5. Offer an alternative—Another thing that seems to work with some children is to create a diversion. You might try saying, “I know you are frustrated. When you are done with the meltdown, we can go read a book.” Or offer a toy or ask for their help in making a decision. Eventually the idea of doing something else gets them to stop.
  6. Never give in—If you do, they’ll repeat the behavior every time they want something or simply want to control you.

When tantrums continue

The good news is that most children outgrow tantrums, as they learn to handle emotions and frustrations. However, as a child grows older and tantrums keep occurring, there may be underlying medical problems. So talk to your pediatrician about such things as ear infections or communication issues.

Children who still have tantrums after the age of 4 may need help learning to deal with anger. If tantrums continue or start during the school years, they may be a sign of other issues, such as learning problems or trouble getting along with other children. Tantrums in school age children are no laughing matter. While they may not throw tantrums, as such, adolescents and teenagers will become relentless in trying to manipulate you and other adults, which can be very disturbing.

Behavior Management Coaching can help parents deal more effectively with angry, defiant children, and help you make real changes in your children’s behavior…to build strong relationships with them for the long term. Talk to us today.