How To Handle Temper Tantrums
Tips for Handling Temper Tantrums from a Mom of 6 Young Kids
Looking for some great tips for handling your child's meltdowns? I am a Mom of 6 and I have certainly dealt with some tantrums. Keep reading to see what has helped me deal with my little ones in times of stress!
Here is just one example of my experiences with child meltdowns:
It was Christmas morning. The tree was lit with tiny white lights, Christmas music was softly playing in the background and the smell of cinnamon rolls and breakfast casserole was wafting from the kitchen. Santa had come during the night and 5 gifts were carefully set up around the tree, one for each of our children. My husband and I drank coffee and anxiously waited for the kids to come running down the stairs to discover that Santa had brought each of them exactly what they had asked for.
Suddenly, we heard the pitter-patter of little feet on the stairs and new the wonder and chaos of Christmas was beginning! My oldest "yippee-ed!" when he saw his new bike. My 5-year old daughter's eyes lit up over the sight of her new babydoll crib. Our baby drank her bottle and snuggled with her new stuffed hippo.
All of a sudden, we heard an ear-piercing wail in the midst of the happy sounds. My 3-year old son, who had asked Santa over and over for "tools like Daddy", ran right by his new workbench and battery-operated tools to tackle my 2-year old son who was excitedly playing with his new red Tonka firetruck. It turns out my older toddler hadn't considered that he could ask for a firetruck and he was suddenly regretting his choice of a tool set.
The meltdown began, the tantrum was horrendous and the battle ensued...
Somehow, we envisioned Christmas morning going a little differently than this!
I am not, nor do I claim to be, an expert or professional in child behavior and development.
I am, however, a mom of 6 kids who has years of personal experience in handling child meltdowns. This page is full of things I have learned during my years of being a Mom.
I do not address behaviors caused by or related to medical diagnoses such as autism, Aspergers, ADHD, food allergies, etc.
What constitutes a temper tantrum?
Let's start with what a tantrum is NOT?
A baby who is crying emphatically because they are hungry, wet, cold, tired or otherwise uncomfortable is NOT throwing a tantrum. This is how a pre-talker communicates with you and it is your job as a parent/grandparent/caregiver to make sure they are fed, rested and comfortable.
With that said, I understand that there are babies with colic (AKA screaming babies) who cry all day and all night, every single day and every single night. I'll tell you upfront that none of my 5 children were colicky, so this is not a subject I can speak to with any authority.
What I do know is that the crying of a colicky baby is NOT a tantrum. It is a genuine cry of help for something the baby needs, or conceives that he needs. If you are dealing with a screaming baby, this is not the page for you. Please seek professional advice and find a couple of adults you trust (wholeheartedly) who can relieve you from time to time when the crying gets to be too much.
So, what IS a tantrum?
A genuine meltdown usually occurs when the child is not getting something they want. These fits are common in (or when leaving) stores, restaurants and play areas, or during special occasions like birthdays or Christmas.
Tantrums do not occur because of a NEED, but because of a WANT! When outsiders see a tantrum, they will immediately think your child is a "spoiled brat". As a mom of 5 kids who are definitely not spoiled, I know firsthand that every child has tantrums and can be "bratty" now and then, but that does not mean they should be labeled as "spoiled brats"!
Please keep reading to discover ways to calm a tantrum, deal with tantrums in public and even try to prevent them from happening altogether!
Do your child's meltdowns look anything like these?
A few things before you watch these temper tantrum videos:
1. You may want to turn your speakers down.
2. I only included 3 videos because I don't think anyone could handle watching more than that in one sitting.
3. If you happen to catch a genuine tantrum on your child's birthday or play date video...fine. I do not think it is fair to the child to incite or encourage a tantrum just so you will have a "funny" video to post on YouTube...many of the ones I didn't post here were just that.
Handle Meltdowns When They Happen
5 Ways To Handle Temper Tantrums
Tantrums will happen...it's a fact of life. I don't claim to be an expert in how to handle these meltdowns, but as a mom of 6 kids, ages newborn to 17, I have had my share of experience. Here are 5 ways I have found to handle my children's breakdowns before they escalate too far. This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it will provide you with a starting point you can build on.
- My #1 tip is to KEEP YOUR COOL. I know this can be so hard when your child is "losing it" right in front of your eyes, but you MUST follow this first step...every.single.time.
The fact is, if you allow yourself to lose control in the middle of a child meltdown, your child will only feed off of that and the negative behavior will escalate.
- Get your child to a safe place. This is always the next step after composing yourself. A child in the middle of a tantrum is not paying attention to hard surfaces or sharp toys they could step on or stairs they could fall down.
If you cannot get them to a safe place and you feel they are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, wrap your arms around their arms and secure them in a gentle hold until they calm down. By all means, keep them safe!
- Tell the child that you understand what they are feeling, even if you can't possibly figure out why anyone would pitch a fit because they didn't get the pink lollipop! If you know why the tantrum began, speak it back to them in very clear language.
For example, if your child is breaking down because they are not ready to leave the playground, get down on their level and say something like this: "Honey, it's okay! I know you don't want to leave the park right now, but we need to go home for dinner. If you act nice, we can come back tomorrow (or next week, etc.)."
Is this bribery? Yes...but if you are offering something you would have done anyway (like come back to the park another day), then use it! Just don't bribe with anything you cannot follow up on...the child will catch on to this very quickly!
Often, a child will pitch a fit out of frustration if they think you are not listening to them or don't understand their feelings. By getting down on their level and repeating their feelings back to them, they will get the message that you understand and you are not just ignoring them.
This won't work every time. but I would say that it resolves about 1/2 of my children's tantrums. Children want to be understood and they want to feel like they count. They do not want to be autonomous...they want to be heard. Frustration is very common in pre-talkers who understand so much, but cannot yet say the words they want to say.
Please don't think that I am saying that you should let them have their own way. Don't stay at the park after affirming your child's feelings. You should still be the parent and stick to your guns, but do it with empathy and understanding.
- Try distraction! Quickly grab an awesome toy that is laying nearby and start playing with it. Do something really silly that might grab their attention and make them laugh. Put on some music and start dancing to it. If it happens to be snack time, show them what they are having for a snack and ask if they would like to help make it.
Do not make a habit of bribing your child with snacks, as this could create even worse behavior and unhealthy feelings toward food. But sometimes bad behavior could be escalated because the child is hungry and needs a bit of a boost. If this is the case, I see no problem in offering a snack and distracting them by letting them choose what to eat or helping to prepare it.
- If your child is in a safe place, they cannot be brought down by talking to them and they can't be distracted, please walk away!.
I know, this is hard to do, but trust me...it works! So many times, tantrums are about getting (and keeping) attention. If the child knows you are not watching, the tantrum will stop. It might take a minute or two, but it will stop.
Of course, stay within hearing distance and discreetly check on them while they are having their meltdown, but don't let them know you are paying attention. In fact, after they calm down, they will come looking for you because they will be trying a different tactic to get your attention. When they do show up in a better mood, reward the good behavior with a big smile and a hug!
Obviously you cannot try this tactic in a public place. If they are inconsolable in public, remove them from the store, restaurant or park and get them into the car or home. Do this even if you are in the middle of a meal or a shopping trip...they will be shocked that you actually left before you finished. This alone might stop the tantrum and keep it from happening next time!
Do not allow the bad behavior in public! Your child will see that it gets attention from others and may continue to do it over and over.
Calm Down Time - Toddler Tools
This book is an awesome resource for parents struggling with child meltdowns. Read this book to your child (during a calm moment) and teach them how to find their calm place when they feel out of control. Toddlers will learn how to communicate better, ask adults for help and find peace on their own terms.
This book teaches a child how to manage his/her emotions in a controlled and effective way. If your child is prone to tantrums, this is a must-have read-aloud for you to have in your home.
I love the textured illustrations in this book and the way it speaks to children about having healthy emotions.
This book is part of the Toddler Tools series and is a Gold Mom's Choice AwardÂ® Winner!
Online resources for parents dealing with child meltdowns - Clicking on any of these links takes you to another website
Prevent Meltdowns Before They Happen
5 Ideas for Preventing Child Meltdowns - Keep the tantrums away before they start!
Now that you have some ideas for stopping tantrums in their tracks, here are a few things I do to keep the meltdowns at bay...before they even have a chance to start!
- Stick to a schedule. Children love to know what's coming next. It gives them a sense of security and prepares them for the next thing, whether it's a nap, a bath or an outing. They will have a more peaceful day when their time feels familiar to them. Sometimes, a sudden unexpected shift in activity is all it takes to set them off.
- Take care of the child's immediate needs. If your child gets their diaper changed when they need it, has regular meal and snack times and is well rested, they have confidence in the way that they are being cared for. They won't have to wonder how long they'll be left in messy pants or how long they have to wait to have their empty belly filled.
It is especially important to make sure they are clean, fed and rested before you go out to run errands or on a play date. This will lead to a huge decrease in crankiness while you are out.
- Tell the child what you expect from them. Even very small children can understand rules. Make sure your child knows what behavior is expected of him/her in different situations.
My children know that they can get loud and rowdy at home, as long as they are safe and respectful of each other. But they also know that when it's mealtime, whether at home or in a restaurant, they are to sit quietly, not reach for things (to prevent spills), ask for things politely and not get up until everyone is finished eating. Teaching them these appropriate behaviors virtually eliminates any issues in restaurants or other homes.
When shopping, make sure they know that they will not receive anything that they ask for. My children know that if they ask for something, they will automatically not get it. They still get fun things and surprises, but only if they behave and don't ask...and certainly not every time I we walk into a store! This eliminates the problems parents often have in the dreaded checkout aisle, where marketers conveniently place all the things that look fun and wonderful to little children.
- Always listen to your child when they talk to you. Adults often brush away little children when they are talking and tend to answer with "uh huh" and "that's nice" without even paying attention. This can cause much frustration for the child. They can sense when they are not being heard and they want so badly to be understood.
When your child talks to you, try to get down to their level, look them in the eye and really listen to what they are saying. Let them know that you really do care about what they have to say. Repeat back to them some of the statements they are making. This is especially important with new talkers who are difficult to understand. They are trying hard to learn language and converse...notice the proud look on their face when you converse back, it's priceless!
Removing sources of frustration from their life can do wonders in reducing child meltdowns!
- Give plenty of praise for the child's good behavior! When your child has a naptime with no tantrums, leaves the playground without argument and goes on a shopping trip without having a meltdown in the checkout lane, be sure to positively reinforce that good behavior! Over time, he/she will realize that the attention received when behaving nicely is so much better than when acting out. This will go a long way toward creating peace in your home...on a permanent basis!
Advice from Supernanny
Jo Frost is the Supernanny! Her straightforward, highly-effective methods of training children have earned her book deals and a very popular television show.
This book is entertaining and educational...and I highly recommend it!
Real Parents Handle Child Meltdowns - Read how some temper tantrums have successfully been dealt with!
- Dealing With a Temper Tantrum - One Solution