Part I of this topic presented information to parents on what is known as a guidance approach and dealt specifically with temper tantrums and why they occur.

This part II deals with how to prevent temper tantrums and presents strategies to use when they do occur.

Preventing tantrums

  • As a parent, model considerate behaviour yourself. Avoid shouting, screaming or hitting your child.
  • Never smack your child. You could be very angry and actually harm your child.
  • A physical attack is sending the message it is OK to hit others. Is this really what you want to happen?
  • Be an effective listener. If you are not really listening, your child may throw a tantrum to get full attention.
  • Give positive attention – let them do simple tasks so that they learn new skills to make them feel proud. Some children throw tantrum to seek attention. Children who are used to getting lots of positive attention are less likely to seek attention through negative behaviours. Praise your child for remaining calm in a situation where they would have normally thrown a tantrum.
  • Observe your child in order to understand what sets them off, whether the child is hungry, tired, or sleepy and try to avoid those situations. Know your child’s limits. It may not be a good idea to take a sleepy child out for shopping. Give enough warning before a change in an activity is to happen.
  • Give choices – freedom within the limits. Instead of making a decision for the child or leaving the decision making entirely to the child, offer not more than two choices. E.g. “Would you like to wear the blue dress or the green one?” Make the child feel as if they do have some control over their life.
  • Help children to develop self-regulation and considerate behaviour. Praise your child when examples of this occur.
  • Toddlers often don’t have enough language to express what they want. Teach your child a few words and to speak in a quiet and polite manner. E.g. “Please help me.”
  • Enough sleep – Lack of sleep is a major factor leading to temper tantrums. Not getting enough sleep can make children irritable and frustrated.
  • Keep off-limit items away from your child’s sight to avoid temptation e.g. keeping candy/cookie jars away from sight.

How to respond to a tantrum

Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Be calm – A child throwing a tantrum needs a parent’s help. An angry and frustrated parent will only complicate and perhaps escalate the situation. Never resort to physical punishment. Set an example for your child on how to remain calm.
  • Talk to the child and let them know that you understand how they feel and that you are there to help e.g. “I know you are upset”, “I know you want a cookie”.
  • Distract your child as soon as you notice a change in behaviour. Start a new activity, sing a funny song or remove them from the situation before the behaviour escalates into a full blown tantrum.
  • Ignore the tantrum but stay close to the child - The way you respond to a tantrum should depend on why your child is upset. Sometimes it is best to ignore the tantrum. It is a good idea to stay close to the child as you don’t want the child to feel abandoned. Older children resort to tantrums to get their way and they have learned that tantrums work. Children stop when they realise that throwing a tantrum doesn’t get your attention or what they want. Do not feel guilty for not giving in to their demands.
  • After your child has calmed down, praise them for controlling their behaviour. Do not give in to the child’s demands as a reward. Reassure your child that you love them in spite of their behaviour.
  • Tantrums in public - It is good to remember that your child throwing a tantrum does not reflect on your bad parenting skills. Ignore the child’s behaviour as long as your child is safe and not being destructive. If not lead your child away to a quiet place and be with your child until he/she calms down.
  • While your child is throwing a tantrum, they may not be ready to listen to reasoning and logic. They can often become quite distressed. Once they calm down then quietly discuss the issue without giving in to the demands or breaking the limits that you had already set.
  • Always tell your child that you love them but it is the behaviour which needs to change.
  • Never withhold affection from your child. Often after a tantrum they will want a cuddle.
  • Trial and error – Not all children are the same and only you as a parent knows what works best for you and your child. Whichever method you adopt, being consistent is the key.
  • Children who are in the habit of hurting themselves or others during tantrums should be moved to a safer, quieter place to calm down.

Seek professional help if your child often hurts himself/herself or others or if the tantrums are becoming more and more frequent and lasts longer. Though not very common, children with health concerns associated with hearing, speech or learning disability are more likely to have tantrums.

Concluding comments

Temper tantrums are quite common in young children and they are usually not cause for concern. As children learn self-regulation skills and acquire the language ability to express themselves effectively, temper tantrums will decrease.

Copyright © Marjory Ebbeck, Sheela Warrier and SEED Institute 2016

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