Tips for handling tantrums

Simple, practical strategies to calm your child during a tantrum

Tantrums happen from time to time. Simply put, a tantrum is the expression of a young child’s frustration with his or her limitations or anger about not being able to get his or her way. They are also some of the most crucial life experiences in sculpting the brain. Regulating emotions during temper tantrums is a building block for a child managing stress later in life. Following are some simple, yet practical ways to help you and your child through them.

Handle aggressive behavior immediately
If your child becomes aggressive during a meltdown—hitting, kicking, biting, or throwing things—stop them immediately and remove them from the situation. Remain calm, but be firm and refrain from yelling. Make it clear that while their feelings are okay, hurting others or themselves is not.

Sing a song, offer a new toy, or ask a question. This can divert your child and raise their curiosity. Using simple questions, distractions or other acceptable ways to engage your child’s critical thinking before emotions escalate can stamp out a full-blown tantrum before it starts.

Hold or Hug your child.
Hugs can reassure a child who is feeling overwhelmed. They can make kids feel secure and let them know that you care about them even if you do not agree with their behavior.

Use short, specific commands
When you see the beginning of a tantrum offer up some brief, simple and to-the-point directions or a task to complete. For example, “Don’t hit your brother” or “ Let’s color on this paper” is better than a vague statement like “just be good”. Including a change of scenery can also be beneficial—“Help me water the flowers over here.”

Be empathetic
Offer positive words or acknowledgments, such as “you must feel very upset” or “I’m so sorry that you’re hurt” which can let your child feel safe and understood. In turn, you are teaching your child how to be empathetic.

Stay Calm and remain positive—but don’t give in
When you stay calm you are teaching your child how to face difficulties and upsetting situations without losing control. We all know that negativity can be contagious so being angry and showing negative emotions will only increase your child’s stress. This does not mean giving in. Instead, acknowledge their frustration and calmly communicate observable and concrete expectations. Ex. “I see that you are angry and frustrated. But you cannot have candy right before dinner.” Keep you tone friendly but firm.

Teach them how to express themselves properly
Once the storm has passed, talk about what happened and then discuss ways your child can use words instead of throwing things or screaming to express emotions. Resist the urge to shame your child for the tantrum. Keep the conversation positive and constructive.

Coping and managing your own feelings

Here are ideas for staying calm and keeping things in perspective during tantrums:

  • Have a clear plan for how you’ll handle the situation. Concentrate on putting your plan into action.
  • Accept that you can’t control your child’s emotions or behavior directly. You can only keep your child safe and guide their behavior so tantrums are less likely to happen in the future.
  • Your child is not doing this on purpose or trying to upset you. They are simply stuck in a bad habit or don’t have the skills right now to cope with the situation.
  • Keep your sense of humor. But don’t laugh at the tantrum – if you do, it might reward your child with attention. It might also upset your child even more if they think you’re laughing at them.
  • If other people give you dirty looks, ignore them. Tantrums happen with every child at one time or another.

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