Temper Tantrums - How to deal with them.
Parents who experience tantrums from their children on an almost daily basis know how frustrating and exhausting these tantrums can be. I remember a mother telling me that she was afraid to go to the store because the tantrums could occur at any time. Some children experience tantrums that are extreme, and can take hours to calm down. What can you do?
Identify the Tantrum
Tantrums usually occur for 1 of 4 reasons:
Attention Seeking – the child may be craving attention of some kind, and he knows that tantrumming is a sure way of getting such attention.
Access to an Object (Tangible) – I think we all know what this means. The child wants something that we told him he can’t get. (These are usually the kind of tantrums that occur at stores).
Escape/Avoidance – Child throws a tantrum because he refuses to do what he is being asked to do, or what he knows he has to do.
Sensory Stimulation – These types of tantrums are more usual among children with Autism. They occur to fulfill some sensory stimulation (visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory).
All these tantrums occur for a reason, and allow the child (or have allowed the child in the past) to obtain what he is looking for, therefore reinforcing their idea that tantrums are an excellent way to get the things they want. What can parents do? First, identify why your child is tantrumming. Is he looking for attention? Does he want an object he doesn’t have access to? Or is he trying to avoid doing what you told him to do, such as brushing his teeth or cleaning his room?
What to do once the tantrum is identified
Once you have the tantrum identified, make it a goal to stop providing what your child is looking for, and teach him replacement behaviors. For example:
Attention seeking – If attention is what your child is looking for, stop giving it to him when he tantrums. Ignore his tantrums. When he is more calmed, teach him more appropriate ways to ask for attention, such as raising his hand, asking politely, saying “excuse me, mom, I need….” Provide attention to your child throughout the day so he won’t feel the need for it, thus leading to tantrumming. Whenever he uses the behaviors you taught him to obtain attention, shower him with praises! Also, although we know that a child cannot have the attention he wants anytime he wants it, when he is barely beginning to practice his new polite and appropriate behaviors, give him the attention. That way he will learn that the techniques you taught him really work, and he won’t feel the need to go back to tantrumming. As time passes by, and as your child masters the appropriate techniques to get attention, you won’t have to respond every time he requests it. But at the beginning, it is imperative that you do!
Access to an object – Don’t give your child what he wants while is tantrumming. Ignore the tantrum, and similar to attention seeking, talk to him when he is calmed. Teach him appropriate ways to ask for things, and make it clear, with words and actions, that you will only respond when he asks appropriately.
Escape/Avoidance – If your child is tantrumming because he doesn’t want to do something, don’t let him get away with it! Many parents will let the child escape from his duties if he tantrums. This only teaches the child that tantrumming is the perfect way to get away! If your child is trying to escape a duty, don’t let him. Once you told him to do something, you must follow through with your request. Take him by the hand, and help him do what you requested. For example, if he doesn’t want to clean up his toys take him by the hand and have him pick up the toys. The idea is that the child HAS to perform the activity you gave him, whether it is with help or without it. Your child has to learn that tantrums will no longer get him what he wants. The best thing is to tell him ahead of time what he will have to do. For example, if cleaning up is a problem, before you allow him to take his toys out, remind him that once he is done playing with them, he must inevitably clean them up afterwards. Also give him a few reminders while he is playing. By doing this, you will be mentally preparing your child for the task.
Sensory Stimulation – This one is a bit more difficult. Pay close attention to your child and find out what activity really stimulates his senses in a pleasant way. Teach him new activities and games that will give him the sensory stimulation he need without having to resort to tantrums.
The goal is to render tantrums ineffective. It will take time, but once your child understands that tantrums are ineffective, he will resort to using the effective ways you taught him.