Tantrums are quite common — especially in toddlers and young children. But there are things you can do to manage and reduce your child’s tantrums.
Tola runs our Family Life Program for Mums and Dads and, in her role, she speaks to many families who are trying to cope with tantrums. Here are her best tips for managing and reducing tantrums in children.
When a child has a tantrum, it can be distressing — for the child and parents! Sometimes as parents we feel overwhelmed by a child’s tantrum, which makes it difficult for us to manage the tantrum in a good, calm way.
Tantrums are very common in toddlers, preschoolers and in kids generally, but the earlier a parent is able to manage the tantrums and teach the child how to deal with their emotions, the earlier the tantrums stop.
What is a tantrum?
A tantrum is when a child loses control of their emotions. Children find it difficult to express themselves when they are young. They do not yet have the words to express what they’re feeling.
Be it anger, be it dissatisfaction, jealously, frustration they don’t have those words yet to express these emotions.
So the next best thing is to throw a tantrum — to scream, shout, kick, stomp their feet, slam the door, fall down, throw themselves on the floor etc. Some kids also hold their breath, and some get quite aggressive and start to hit and push.
Why do children throw tantrums?
There are many reasons kids throw tantrums. It’s not simply that the child is being ‘naughty’ or ‘nasty’. You want to know the reason behind the tantrum because when you’re able to deal with the underlying issue then all the other things will fall into place.
A child’s temperament needs to be taken into consideration because this influences the way they react. If things are frustrating some kids will just go to the corner and be quiet but some will get pretty upset very quickly.
A tired child might be more prone to throwing a tantrum. Or the child may be hungry or stressed.
The child may just have emotions they’re not able to manage — maybe huge emotions, not appropriate for young kids and they can’t manage them. They may have seen something they’re not supposed to have seen.
It could also be that mum or dad is also throwing tantrums. They might see adults in their lives, who they love, also throwing tantrums. It may be that the adult’s tantrums were not handled well right from when they were kids.
Sometimes older kids just need to be taught the appropriate way to manage frustration. Yes, as adults we slam doors and stuff like that too. But, is not right because we are meant to be able to manage our feelings. It is not about ‘not feeling the emotion’ it is about learning the appropriate way to manage it.
How to deal with a tantrum
Avoid bargaining and don’t give in
Make sure that you, as a parent, don’t let your emotions escalate as well — don’t get into the ‘back and forth’ with your child. Avoid bargaining when your child is having a tantrum or when you’ve already told them ‘no’.
Don’t play into the whole situation — a lot of people will say “oh, s/he’s just a little kid” but kids learn and this is the way they learn. If your child throws a tantrum then gets a lolly, you are teaching them that throwing a tantrum is a great way to get what they want.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop a tantrum. When a child’s gonna go, a child’s gonna go!
In that instance you need to stay calm. Even though it’s really difficult to be calm when your child is in the shopping centre, flailing on the floor screaming and shouting.
It can be embarrassing. It can be: “oh my god, everybody is looking at me”.
Parents — I need to let you know something. Almost all parents have gone through the same thing. And those people who are there looking at you judgmentally just don’t understand what is going on.
Acknowledge their feelings
Acknowledge the way your child is feeling. Say: “I understand that this is very upsetting for you — but this is not the appropriate way to handle this.”
Ignore when safe and necessary
If your child is hurt, hungry or in danger then you can’t ignore their tantrum. But if they’re OK, then sometimes you just have to ignore it.
Talk to them afterwards
You now need to have a conversation with your child about managing their emotions, about learning the best and most appropriate way to express their emotions.
This will do them wonders — because it is something they’ll use now but also as adults. You’ll give them a whole world of knowledge about how to behave as they grow up.
How to avoid and reduce tantrums
Know your child’s triggers and plan ahead
If you’re able to find out the underlying reasons for your child’s tantrums you can try to avoid that situation next time. Try to identify the triggers, then plan ahead.
For example, if you know which times of the day your child is tired, then avoid going out during those times. I know it is not always possible but where possible please plan your day around that. If you do need to go shopping and you know in the morning your child is very cool and calm then take them shopping in the morning. Try to keep it short.
Involve them in day-to-day activities
Give them a little shopping list — have two shopping lists and give your child one. Even if you are clothes shopping — it will make them feel involved.
Create a routine
Even though it is hard to do sometimes, try to create a routine. It might be, from 12pm to 3pm you’re home, so make sure from 12pm to 3pm you’re home. Of course, some days you might not be able to stick to it and that’s OK once in a while.
If you know your child naps at a certain time, you might need to wait until your child wakes up to go shopping or you might need to go before your child goes to bed. And sometimes, yes, you might need to go out when your child is having a nap, but you that’s OK too once in a while.
Praise them when they behave well
If you go out and your child has spent 20-30 minutes or even five minutes behaving themselves say “that’s a good girl for putting the lolly down when mummy said no” or “that was really nice of you”.
It makes them feel good about themselves. They love praise and they think “maybe I don’t need to scream and shout all the time”.
It is common to have things in the house that your child wants to touch all the time and you have to keep saying “no”. Yes — your child will throw a tantrum. Take it away. Put it in a place where they can’t see it.
Try not to put your child in a situation where you have to say “no” constantly — you are setting them up to have a tantrum.
Talk to your child about different emotions
Talk about emotions with your child. It can be difficult for a child to use words to express how they really feel. Give them the words.
Let your child know that there is nothing wrong with feeling those emotions. They are general day-to-day things — we as adults also feel them. We feel jealous, we feel stressed, we feel angry.
Be patient and consistent
It’s not like this is going to take away all the tantrums within two days! It takes a while for kids to learn to change behaviour so you just have to learn to be patient and consistent.
If tantrums are a regular thing you might need to put in consequences for the behaviour. Just make sure the consequences are not bigger than the offence. Avoid saying things like “you’re naughty” as it is the behaviour that is naughty, it is not the child who is naughty.
So we as parents (including me) have to learn not to reward our kids for bad behaviour. We have to learn that there are times when we have to ignore certain behaviours, there are times when we have to look at our child’s temperament and we need to make sure we know why that tantrum is going on.
Please remember to be kind to yourself. Remember to take time out to take care of yourself. Remember to do things as a family, when and where you can.
If you’re struggling with tantrums or any other aspect of parenting please contact us to make an appointment. Our Family Life Program — For Mums and Dads is a free program that offers parenting support, advice, referrals and emergency relief.
For more information or to book an appointment, phone 07 4953 1788 or email firstname.lastname@example.org