When you have a child who has tantrums, you know what it feels like to be overwhelmed and frustrated. You may also feel as if nothing you do seems to make a difference. The truth is, your child is probably feeling even more lost than you are, and probably just as overwhelmed by the anger or frustration that he or she experiences.
Do you ever wish that you could enjoy a day with your child without your time and energy being drained by an intense emotional outburst? These tips will allow you to tame the tantrums, and so help both you and your child have a more peace. You’ll begin to feel more at ease within your parenting role as you interact with your child and begin to understand and implement these tools daily.
1. Decode The Tantrum
Understanding tantrums by viewing them as a cycle that has multiple stages: pre-tantrum, tantrum, post-tantrum, and contentment. There are ways of discouraging tantrum behavior during each of these stages, such as helping your child feel grounded and secure pre-tantrum, or helping him or her debrief after a tantrum (not meant to be a punishment or shaming experience).
Furthermore, notice if your child’s tantrums seem to be connected to feelings of shame, lack of sense of control or consistency, or to times of fear or anxiety. A mental health professional can help you determine the type of emotion or perceived situation that can trigger tantrums for your child.
Understanding your child’s emotion or view of the situation that is underneath the tantrum can help you feel closer to a solution to the tantrum habit. For example, you may have a child who tantrums consistently when fe or she feels dismissed or “left out.” Take time to understand the tantrums both when they are and when they aren’t occurring, in order to help prevent future outbursts.
2. Use Prevention and Preparation
Tantrums can often be prevented or reduced, if you practice living more mindfully. For example, sometimes tantrums happen simply because a child is fatigued. Have a plan in place for when you notice signs that your child is becoming drained emotionally or physically. Additionally, track your child’s emotional triggers (and your own triggers, too). Understanding what can set off a tantrum for your child will help you be able to set your child up for success, rather than for failure.
Tantrums can come up unexpectedly, especially if mindful habits are new. These tools will not change your child’s behavior instantly; it will take time to incorporate new habits within your child’s life and your family’s style of interacting. For unpredictable tantrums, have a game plan in place, such having a safe space picked out for your child to relax until he or she is ready to rejoin a group.
There are ways to help when a tantrum is occurring… When a tantrum is happening, all is not lost. Think of every tantrum as an opportunity to make this and every future tantrum shorter and safer.
Find the Balance: If you put too much focus on preventing a tantrum at all costs, you’ll build anxiety and have trouble maintaining consistent rules or boundaries with your child. In that case, you’ll also be less prepared for when a tantrum does occur. Alternatively, too much focus on preparing for a tantrum without any prevention means that you’ll constantly be planning for the worst possible outcome (tantrums); that negative outlook creates tension that can contribute to tantrums. Find a happy medium that allows you to reduce the amount and the severity of the tantrums by focusing on remaining in control of yourself if and when one does occur.
3. Help Your Child Feel Your Presence
There is a difference between listening to your child’s words and dedicating your attention in a way that allows your child to be heard. If your child wants to talk, listen attentively, offering eye contact at his or her eye level. Think of this moment as an opportunity to help your child learn to express his or her emotions in a healthy way, rather than keep them pent up inside or allowing them to explode out of control.
Sometimes words won’t need to be exchanged, and your calming presence can be an anchor for your child to calm down. Your child may soon match your level of calmness and be able to relax with your guidance. Offer a hug to your child when the tantrum is at a small or medium level, and if you are concerned that the behavior may get completely out of control, be a gentle yet firm physical restraint for your child to prevent injury. It’s ok to let your child know that you’ll be willing to talk more about the issue after he or she calms down, so as to avoid engaging in an argument with your child.
4. Recognize What May Reinforce the Behavior, and Change It
Rewarding a child for a tantrum encourages a future tantrum. Your attention and care does not need to be earned, so that should be offered as much as possible. However, buying the toy or giving the extra treat before bed time IS rewarding the tantrum behavior, and giving in to these things will highly increase the likelihood of a future tantrum. You can offer your understanding without compromising your decision or rule. Your child is not trying to manipulate you; he or she is expressing pent up feelings in the way that he or she knows how. A situation only becomes a manipulation if you as the parent allow your values to be compromised due to the stress of the situation.
Saying “no” or “because I said so” without a brief explanation also encourages the tantrum behavior, because it is natural for your child to feel frustrated if he or she does not understand. It’s not necessary to engage in a long discussion, especially if your child is in a highly emotional state, but offering a clear and reasonable meaning behind your “no” can help reduce tantrums.
5. Offer Reasonable Solutions
Give your child a choice between two or three reasonable solutions. One option is too limiting, and too many options are too overwhelming for a child. It helps your child learn to regulate his or her emotions and think critically if he or she is given the choice between two options for a solution to a problem. For example, “You can sit with mommy for a while until you’re ready to play with your brother again, or you can sit by yourself in your room.”
Part of your solution may include explaining to your child your perspective in the situation. Always wait until your child has calmed down, when he or she will be more likely to listen and understand your point of view. Never try to explain that you are disappointed in or upset with your child when he or she is having a tantrum; it will only increase the feeling of being out of control for your child in that moment.
If you decide on a consequence for your child’s behavior, be sure that it is a reasonable and “natural” consequence (connected to and appropriate for the type of behavior). Also, be sure that you stick with it. Consistency is vital in order for your child to feel that there is a safe and reliable structure in his or her life.
The most important thing that you can do as a parent with a child who tantrums is remain calm. It’s never ok to yell at or hit your child out of anger. Whether or not you believe in spanking as a punishment, never ever physically touch your child when you are angry. Always wait until you calm down in order to decide on a consequence for your child.
Tantrums that become a regular part of your daily life or that seem to increase intensity are a strong indication that you may need to seek professional help. If these tips do not work to reduce the tantrums, please seek out assistance from a professional who can attend to your child and your family’s unique needs. The earlier that you seek out assistance, the sooner you can experience the peace that you want for your child and yourself.