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Preventing Temper Tantrums

by Dr. Susan Canizares | July 10, 2018 | Child Development

A public temper tantrum—it’s every parent’s worst nightmare. They can be frustrating, embarrassing, unexpected… and are completely normal. In order to manage a tantrum, it is important to try to understand the cause. This can be difficult because they can be caused by many different things, such as frustration, hunger, fear, anger, stress, sensory overload, and tiredness, to name just a few of the most common.

Here are suggestions that might help to prevent tantrums:

  • Make sure your child has eaten before doing anything that you feel may cause stress. If you plan to be away from home for a long time, bring snacks!
  • Plan around naptime. If your child is prone to tantrums, try to keep as close to their naptime schedule as possible.
  • Give your child advanced notice about a routine change, like a trip to the doctor.
  • Tell your child what your behavior expectations are. If you know your child will want you to buy them a toy, explain what you plan on buying. Encourage them to bring a toy from home.
  • When you see a child’s frustration building, use feeling words so they can become familiar with the language. For example, “I see you are feeling frustrated” or “You are mad at mommy.”

When a child is having a tantrum or meltdown, they are unable to control their emotions. They feel overwhelmed, and often cannot verbally express what they feel. Your response can help determine how long these feelings will last.

  • Respond with a calm and soothing voice. The louder the child yells, the softer you should speak.
  • If you feel anger, take a step back and count to 10.
  • Use very few words, and when the tantrum is at its worst, try not to use any words.
  • If you are in a dangerous situation, like a parking lot, pick your child up and move him or her out of harm’s way.
  • Do not try to argue or reason with your child mid-tantrum. They are unable to reason at this point.
  • Ignore the tantrum, but stay near your child. Tantrums are frightening for children. It is scary to lose control. They need to see that you are not leaving them alone.

Remember to model appropriate ways to handle frustration, like taking deep breaths. Children learn from good adult models. Don’t forget that children are learning so many things. They are learning appropriate ways to behave and to communicate; they are learning self-regulation and how to identify strong emotions. You may need to pick your battles. Decide which behaviors you can let slide, and which behaviors you will absolutely not accept. Then stick to it! Consistency helps children feel safe and secure and helps them make sense of their world.