Published On: August 1, 2014

Being a counsellor specializing in the challenges of children, parents often share their temper tantrum war stories with me. They happen at home, in the grocery store, at the park, in the car and at Grandma and Grandpa’s, and they usually result in parents feeling incredibly frustrated, embarrassed and lacking in control. So what is the good news? Tantrums can be tamed with a few minor adjustments.

When tackling the temper tantrum, there are a few things you should know. Essentially, there are two types of temper tantrums – the Temperamental Tantrum and the Testing Tantrum. Basically, the Temperamental Tantrum is the tired, hot, hungry or all-of- the -above tantrum. To prevent these tantrums from occurring, watch for:

  • Hunger (have you missed a regular snack time or meal?)
  • Tiredness (rubbing eyes, irritability, missed nap or late night/early morning)
  • Too hot/cold (pink cheeks, hot room, too many layers/not enough layers)
  • Crowding (lots of people in close proximity, loud room volume etc)
  • Overstimulation (bright/flashing lights, noise, music, uncomfortable clothes, new people etc.)

We try our best to prevent the Temperamental Tantrum by addressing the above factors and planning ahead, but sometimes these tantrums are unavoidable. So what do you do when it does happen?

  • Try to immediately address any of the above factors that could be contributing – feed them, cool them off, go to a quiet place etc.
  • If you can, remove your child from any audience. This will help you feel more comfortable in dealing with the behaviour and help your child to calm.
  • Try to resist the urge to become annoyed and sharp in tone yourself.
  • Keep your focus on helping your child to calm down. You may try picking them up, hugging, or speaking in a calm and soothing voice.
  • Use a “when…then…” statement i.e. “When you stop crying, then we can move on”, “when you use a quiet voice, then I will talk to you”
  • You may decide that after the use of “when…then” you will ignore any other negative or tantrum behaviour, until your child starts to calm.
  • As your child starts to re-gain self-control and calms down, praise and acknowledge the positive things they are doing i.e. “Wow, you’re doing a great job of using an inside voice”, “I really like how you’re sitting now”.
  • Once your child is calm, see if you can again address any of the factors that contributed to the temperamental tantrum. Prevention is key with this sort of tantrum.

Second we have the Testing Tantrum. I call it this for two reasons; it tends to test your patience and is a test of the situation for your child. Testing Tantrums generally happen when your child is attempting to gain something and are not successful, such as a toy from a peer or candy at the grocery check-out. In dealing with this sort of tantrum, it is most important to ensure your child is not successful in getting what they want by way of the tantrum. In other words, don’t give into the tantrum! To prevent this sort of tantrum, you may try:

  • Giving choices – “you can have a treat now, or have dessert tonight, which would you like” (and try to make the choice you want them to make more appealing!)
  • Use when… then…. “when Johnny is done playing with the truck, then you can have your turn”
  • Answer “yes” – “Yes you can have a chocolate bar, when you buy it with your own money”

Once the tantrum has started try the following steps to eventually decrease the tantrums you are seeing and end them quicker when they happen:

  • State the facts in black and white & avoid ambiguity (avoid “maybe’s” “we’ll see’s”, “I don’t know’s”)
    Be consistent. If you said “no” stick to it!
  • Use planned ignoring to ignore their behaviour – don’t respond to it or engage in it.
  • Respond to your child when they stop crying.
  • Praise and acknowledge any positive choices or behaviours.
  • Label your child’s feelings and demonstrate empathy.

Although tantrums can be trying and embarrassing, if you have a plan for responding you will quickly get the tantrum under control. Present like you are calm, cool, and collected (even if you’re not!) and you will look like a parenting pro.

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