How much do you dread your child’s temper tantrums? When a child melts down, it is not always easy, but always important and particularly helpful, for parents to keep their cool!
So take heart. Although these moments present an unwelcome challenge, they are manageable and when handled wisely can make parenting easier as you go along.
Here a a few tips for tempering the tempers!
1. Once you are sure that safety needs are met, give limited attention to the tantrum. Attention is often the payoff that the child is seeking, even when they do not know it. Grown ups may question why a child would want to engage in a temper tantrum, but attention is attention, and negative attention can fertilize poor behavior. Hold back from trying to cajole, reason, wheedle, and especially “bribe.” All of those well intentioned, and sometimes desperate, maneuvers constitute attention.
2. When you must intervene, such as in cases where safety must be secured, keep your attention brief and to the point. Some short interventions might be useful. For example, you can acknowledge the child’s feelings, while also letting him know that his behavior is not going to get what him his desired outcome. Firmly state that attention is going to be limited. You might say something like this: “I know you are angry (frustrated, sad, etc). right now, but this is not the type of behavior that gets a lot of attention. When you are calmed, I will give you more attention. We can talk about what is bothering you, or play. (You can suggest a preferred activity. It does not have to be a long one.) With a very little one you might try: “When you calm yourself, I will read to you, play with you, etc. Be sure to consciously follow through when your child re-regulates.
3. Refrain from entering into a control struggle. Rather than argue or cajole, tell your child to tell you when she is is calmer, has finished “melting down,” or whatever wording works. When she does that, you can then offer the preferred activity, or you can decide together the right way to reconnect. With a young child you might say something like: “Mommy will be close by, and when you are done, we can do something special together. Again, the reward doesn’t have to be long. Remember that with “promises,” it is important to follow through. Five minutes of positive attention in the moment can raise the potential for more peaceful hours in the future.
4. Refrain from being worn down by pleading. If saying “NO!” to a child triggers a tantrum, do your best to keep from saying “Okaayyyy!” Giving in to a tantrum can establish the perception that begging/pleading is a good method to get results. This is not necessarily a conscious strategy on the child’s part, but nevertheless, potentially teaches a child that he can control Mommy or Daddy. This is not the lesson most parents want to impart!
5. When you must state a case contrary to the child’s wishes, or set a limit, you can use the three F’s. for using a tantrum taming voice–firm, flat, and formal. Very flatly, and firmly, with as little emotion in your voice as possible, you can say: “This behavior is unacceptable, and will not get Mommy (or Daddy or “us”) to change my/our mind.” Whatever you say, stick with it, even if you are tempted. If your child is engaging in unsafe behaviors, address these first. If you must restrain your child, restraint techniques are best learned from professionals who teach them.
6. Use positive attention to your benefit. Once a child sees that you are not going to give attention to a TT, or give in to begging and pleading, your future chances to manage tantrums are improved. Rather than give in, reward the behavior you wish to support with positive attention. You can name the appropriate behavior and suggest the reward. Example: “I am proud of you for calming yourself down. Now that I see your tantrum is over, we can read, talk, play etc.” If you wish to have the reward activities selected by the child, give choices that work for you. Short is okay.
7. Consider what is going on for your child emotionally. What stressors might be affecting your child emotionally? New school? New baby? Illness in the family? Standardized testing coming up? Kids typically communicate through behavior. Temper tantrums are often behavioral expressions of your son or daughter’s conflicts, struggles and inner feelings. However, children can be taught to use words; and problems can be redirected into story telling and play situations. It is helpful to consider what might be going on, but it is still the child’s job to behave appropriately. When you deem it appropriate, professional help can be sought to treat underlying emotional/psychological factors.
However you decide to help your child temper his tempers, temper tantrum management can lead to longer lasting solutions for children, for parents and for the entire family.
Please let me know how you are doing!