Dealing with your child having tantrums is one of the worst things about being a parent.
As adults, we know how to understand and regulate our emotions and feelings. We no longer scream and shout when we find out there’s no ice cream in the freezer for dessert.
Kids, however, seem to find an excuse to have a meltdown over the smallest of inconveniences – whether it’s because you’ve told them to leave the park for dinner or because you’ve asked them to eat their vegetables.
Sometimes, tantrums are involuntary explosions of pent-up anger and frustration. For some kids with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and Asperger’s, tantrums are more frequent and signs of clear distress.
Having to deal with your child having a tantrum can be exhausting, embarrassing, and upsetting. Unfortunately, there is no universal way to deal with tantrums, because each situation will be different.
Likewise, each child will react differently to how you handle each tantrum. It might feel like a never-ending cycle, which is probably why you’ve clicked on this article.
Looking for help for handling tantrums? Here is what you should do and why!
What Is A Tantrum?
Firstly, to get a better understanding of why your child throws a tantrum, let’s take a look at what a tantrum exactly is.
A tantrum is an explosion of emotions all at once – usually negative emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, and anxiety – that happens when a child does not get their way.
Tantrums mostly occur in children aged 0-3, though some older kids experience tantrums into their early teens.
During a tantrum, a child will do the following things:
- Refuse to move
- Constantly move
- Say unkind things
A tantrum is not a sign of bad parenting. As kids grow, they will encounter a range of emotions and feelings when they are met with new life experiences, which can lead to a confused outburst of anger.
An example of this is asking your child to wake up to go to preschool, wherein they don’t fully understand why they don’t want to go.
They might have a tantrum because they feel more comfortable at home or they’re too anxious to go to school, but they don’t know how to communicate this clearly, so they scream and cry instead.
How To Handle A Tantrum?
It’s justified for a parent to get angry or upset when their child throws a tantrum.
It’s embarrassing and emotionally exhausting to see your child kick and scream in public or at home, but you have to remember this: you have a far better understanding of your emotions than your child does.
You could have 20-40 years of experience with emotions and feelings, but your child only has a few years of experience.
The first thing to do when your child is throwing a tantrum is to keep your cool. The situation will not be cured if you aggravate your child even more by getting angry. As hard as it seems, take a few deep breaths, and try to act as neutral as possible. Now is not the time to show emotions.
If your child begins to kick, hit, or scratch you, you will need to set boundaries immediately. Tell them “No, we don’t hurt people in our family” in a stern and strong voice without shouting. Odds are they won’t listen to this immediately, but this is something they will learn with time.
Next, you need to acknowledge what your child is feeling and verbalize it. They need their feelings put into words for their sake, but also so they can learn that you understand them on a deep level. This will help to build a bond between yourself and your child.
Picture this: Your kid is having a temper tantrum because you’re not going to give them a cookie before dinner. You say “I know you really want this cookie, don’t you?”, and the child agrees.
In theory, verbalizing what they want in a relaxed way should make them (eventually) realize that they can also express their wants and needs in relaxed ways.
Then, you can explain to them why they cannot eat the cookie – “We have dinner coming up soon, do you want to help me cook? You can have the cookie after”.
Distracting them with a task such as cooking will help them forget their previous angry emotions. Alternatively, give them a healthy snack such as slices of carrots or apples.
Of course, this is a hypothetical situation, because nothing is ever this easy with kids.
Distractions Are Key
You’ve got to be wise about picking the distraction for your child who is having a tantrum. Giving them too many distractions that aren’t related to the reason they are having a tantrum can only make them refuse your help, leading to a bigger tantrum.
Instead, like with the cookie hypothetical situation, find a distraction that is somewhat related to solving the problem.
Another example of this is to take your child away from the place they are having their tantrum.
If they are having a tantrum in their bedroom, take them to the kitchen instead. Removing yourself and your child from the negative energy in the room might help to clear their mind.
It’s not easy, of course, if your child is refusing to leave the room. Instead of dragging them out, ask them calmly to help you with a task such as cleaning or cooking. Continue to ask this of them rather than ignore them and shut them away.
It might also be worth expressing your own sadness in their actions. Tantrums can be a good way to teach your child about compassion and kindness, because if you say “That has made me sad” after the child has hit you or done something unkind, they might snap out of their own feelings.
Don’t Say No
Our biggest tip is to avoid saying the word “no”. This might seem like an odd tip, because the two-lettered word should, in theory, tell your child to stop doing whatever they’re doing. However, in the midst of a tantrum, the word “no” will only aggravate them more.
Let’s use the cookie analogy again: Instead of saying “No, you can’t have that cookie”, say “There’s a lot of sugar in that cookie, can we try eating something healthy first?”.
This will take time and repetition, but try not to feed into their anger by repeatedly telling them “no”. This is like waving a red cape in front of a bull.
Setting limits is a great way to provide some sort of compromise with a child who is having a tantrum.
If they’re having a tantrum because they have to leave their best friend’s house, tell them they can have 5 more minutes of play time. Or they can have 10 more swings on the swing set.
Not only will this give your child a lesson about compromise, but it will give them their own time to leave their friend’s house or the park.
Without the stress of feeling rushed, this method could potentially give them enough time to calm down and enjoy the last few moments they have.
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