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How To Handle Temper Tantrums

Updated on February 8, 2017
Brandi Bush profile image

Brandi has been publishing her words online since 2002, receiving much inspiration from her kids and a desire to live a rich, healthy life.

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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.

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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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Calm-Down Time (Toddler Tools)
Calm-Down Time (Toddler Tools)

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 Award® Winner!

 

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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

Supernanny: How to Get the Best From Your Children
Supernanny: How to Get the Best From Your Children

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!

 

Temper Tantrum

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Are you having trouble with child meltdowns? - Please leave advice or tactics for other readers!

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    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 2 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Wonderful tips on how to handle a child's meltdown.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 2 years ago from London UK

      What about mum meltdowns!! Really good helpful Hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      jennabeezer 3 years ago

      I'm mommy to a 3-year-old daughter, so yes - a few meltdowns lately. Thank you for the reminders; we've had several disruptions to our schedule this summer, and I know that is a trigger in our house. I own the Supernanny book and highly recommend it as well.

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 4 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Excellent advice for parents dealing with tantrums. Every child is different and your disclaimer is wise. I had one child who never cried, but just pouted and sulked. The other child would rage for hours and none of the typical parenting advice seemed to make an iota of difference. This was one of our first clues that something was amiss in her development. She was eventually diagnosed with autism.

    • Ahdilarum profile image

      Ahdilarum 4 years ago

      very good advice and will help a lot to the parents

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      Lol...been there and done that and boy am I ever glad that my children are now grown and gone. Now I just have to worry about the grandkids boxing it out with each lol.

    • TwistedWiseman profile image

      TwistedWiseman 5 years ago

      Oh the joy of it all...I am the eldest child in my family, considering I have 3 sisters and a brother. If you count all the cousins yes I am still the older brother.

      Now guess who had to take care of all those children at birthday parties and such....ughhh. Anyho I have plenty of experience to prevent this kind of behaviour, always trying to avoid shouting and force, but trust me moms it is sometimes neccesarry...when the child swings his hands at you, you must show them why it is bad and also explain it to them...

    • profile image

      knavesleuth 5 years ago

      Great article! It's well-written and comprehensive. "Keep Your Cool" is good advice for any situation!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Excellent advice! I have always found that temper tantrums are far less likely when basic needs of food, water, and rest are properly met. It can be hard to keep cool and not further escalate the situation, but just knowing this is what we as parents have to do can help us stay reasonably calm!

    • writerkath profile image

      writerkath 5 years ago

      Hoo boy! I got only about 30 seconds into that first video and shuddered... :) My stepdaughter's little 20 month old has started having these meltdowns. Ouch! Your tips are wise! Thanks for sharing them, and I really hope this page reaches a LOT of parents! :) Blessed!

    • MarcStorm LM profile image

      MarcStorm LM 5 years ago

      A great helpful article! I enjoyed reading it and I'm sure you gave some parents, some really sound advice. Best Wishes!

    • minemyown profile image

      minemyown 5 years ago

      Always something new to learn and share on playdates. Awesome lens and more power!

    • profile image

      Sadheeskumar 5 years ago

      4 months back only blessed boy baby..its really helpful for me.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      This is really great information because some new parents really do not know how to handle these situations the right way and I think this is helpful advice.

    • Keeah profile image

      Keeah 5 years ago

      @Brandi Bush: No it was not in your advice. It was in the third meltdown video you posted, nap time or nape time from YouTube (turnerbar).

    • Brandi Bush profile image
      Author

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      @Keeah: Keeah ~ Offering candy? Was that in one of the videos? I'm certain I didn't offer that advice. If something I wrote was misinterpreted, please let me know so I can reword it. Thanks! :)

    • Kae Yo profile image

      Kae Yo 5 years ago

      Thoroughly enjoyed this lens! You had some great advice. I have tried all of those things a few times. And, I am so grateful that I can take my kids to the store and they behave. :) I am very proud of my kids for the great people they are!

    • Keeah profile image

      Keeah 5 years ago

      Offering candy to a child having a meltdown, even in jest?? Interesting sense of humour. I've worked with children for 9 years, when I coach parents I usually have to remind them not to talk too much during meltdowns because the kid is not listening anyway. If they must say something than to keep repeating the same 1 or 2 phrases: "It's bedtime", "It's finished, it's time to go to ____", "Maybe next time" etc.

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 5 years ago from Kent, UK

      I can't help but be thankful those days are over for me now. :)

    • profile image

      fullofshoes 5 years ago

      I'm exhausted after watching these videos. How does SuperNanny do that job? Mamabush, how do YOU do the job with 5 little ones? Very well, based on the content of your lens!! Excellent. and very ~blessed~

    • queenofduvetcover profile image

      queenofduvetcover 5 years ago

      My daughter has only thrown one tantrum in all her life, she is 11 years old. The look I gave her scared her from doing it again lol These are some great tips.

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 5 years ago

      We frequent these all too often. Thank you for your tips!

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 5 years ago

      What a great lens. I have had all these situations with my children too and holding them closely and talking certainly seemed to help. It's also very good, as you advise, not to let them expect something every time they go out.

    • thememorybooksh1 profile image

      thememorybooksh1 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing tips about child meltdowns.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 5 years ago

      great tips and very informative, angel blessing

    • MizzMary profile image

      MizzMary 5 years ago

      I went shopping with my 3-year old, and he had a tantrum on the floor of the department store because he wanted a toy. I calmly picked him up, gave our half full shopping cart to an employee and left the mall. He was so shocked that he immediately stopped screaming, and I never had the problem again. This is all excellent advice for parents!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      No problems here, as entertaining grandchildren now. Just wanted to say that I never seen such power teaching [had to turn volume off, as watching was enough], and a great teaching tool for moms and dads who are their wit's end.

      Also sharing one incident, when watching my grandsons for a few days. The eldest just wouldn't let up on the youngest, no matter how I spoke or interacted with them. Finally, I went to another room, sat down and started screaming. The youngest with a tear hanging on his cheek, stood at the door and with a priceless look that spoke volumes of concern of what was happening with me, melted my heart. I was then able to take back control from his brother, who was the provoker, as the little one knew I was on his side of table in this 'battle of the wits' going on between me and his brother.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      This is brilliant! I wish all parents were as concerned about their child's behaviour as you and your readers. Blessings.

    • Diva2Mom profile image

      Diva2Mom 5 years ago

      Nice lens! Very informative. I also have 7 kids and we have a Rule NOT to scream or whine to get what you want. We approach each child based on his/her individual temperament, and your advice is definitely coming from an experienced mother. Your tips are a real-life "effective" solution. God bless.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Way past that. Even whining is not allowed in our house.

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 5 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      I have never had this problem with mine. I feel so sorry for parents whose children act badly but usually it is a case of not knowing how to handle the situation. I've watched as a mom has been talking to someone in the store and the child is throwing a tantrum and the mom lets it go on and on. Good advice here. Angel blessings!

    • AgingIntoDisabi profile image

      AgingIntoDisabi 5 years ago

      Not me personally but I see a kid meltdown daily somewhere.

    • profile image

      ninalivre 5 years ago

      very valuable information, one of the best ways to handle children.

    • casquid profile image

      casquid 5 years ago

      What an extensive research article. I found it fulfilling for my grandchildren, of which I live with. We have a set of twins two and a half now. The other children are 13, 11,10, 8 and 6years old. What a bunch, right? Things get quite interesting, at times. I always watch The Super Nanny, myself and help to keep order here.

      Thanks for the lens, I had missed this episode and watched the whole thing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I must admit my daughter never suffered like this. NOW she does at 6 I am paying for now. :) I love this lens. I love how you put the video together of your own child having a mealt down over cake! I must say this is how I would react to cake too and I am 24. Only joking. Ruby my daughter had one melt down in her little life in supermarket so I started stomping around too. Yes in front of all these people. Boy did she laugh she had a giggling fit for like an hour. I had some funny looks this day! but it does work.

    • intermarks profile image

      intermarks 5 years ago

      Kids always like to have attention from their parent, that is why they like to throw tantrum.

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 5 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      Those videos were great - I'll be showing my NINE year old who just had a similar tantrum tonight. Her dad and I left the apartment and sat in the hallway for five minutes until she calmed down. We leave now when she pulls these "drama trauma" sessions we call them - of course we do the feelings thing and try to prevent etc - but this kid likes to freak out as her response to the word "no", it's in her nature. I think I will have to video tape her and make a lens about nine year olds and their tantrums! :)

    • floppypoppygift1 profile image

      floppypoppygift1 5 years ago

      I fully agree with your tips. Especially sticking to a schedule & setting expectations! Communication, eye contact & love. I love the Super Nanny, too! Cheers~cb

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Wonderful and valuable info. I'm sure this will help many people.

      I especially like your point that a misbehaving child is just a child who is having a bad moment -- and not an indication of two adults being bad parents.

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      Sandylin 5 years ago

      good reference for mama.

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      entertainmentev 5 years ago

      Congratulations on your purple star. Well deserved!

    • Mariajomith profile image

      maria 5 years ago

      I was lucky and never did, my children are 12 and 15 now. This lens should be a great help to many.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      great stuff - now tell me - how do you handle a melt down from a 60 year old?

    • profile image

      dellgirl 5 years ago

      WoW, You have really shared some very useful information. This is a great lens you have here, it is so full of really helpful tips and advice. Thank you.

      Iâm going right now to pin this on Pinterest, facebooking and, tweeting it so I can find it again and to share it with others. Thanks again for sharing this valuable information. **Blessed by a Squid-Angel**

    • lclchors profile image

      lclchors 5 years ago

      All the kids are grown but really good advice

    • Mamabyrd profile image

      Mamabyrd 5 years ago

      Great advice!I have two year old twins. We do our best not to make any thing seem like a big deal oh yes I'm guilty of bribing my children

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      milky-way-35977 5 years ago

      nice information, very complete

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      hi. I really want to say thank you for the tips. I have 2 boys with a very loud voice (they get it from their father) and always throw a temper. Somehow I have tried some of the ideas but I will try others as well. Really appreciate it

    • Missmerfaery444 profile image

      Missmerfaery444 5 years ago

      Excellent tips! My 2 and a half year old daughter has just started having one or two, usually when she has to leave somewhere (especially if a friend is there) and I do most of what you say here - explain she can see them again tomorrow, distract with something we're going to do next etc, and if she keeps on crying once we're home, I leave her to it for a bit and she calms right down!