How to deal with Tantrums

Identify the situations that are likely to set off a major tantrum. It could be when you don’t give your little one something he wants. If could be when she doesn’t want to do something you want her to do. Or it could be any number of other things that trigger off her temper. Make a list of the most likely causes. There are some useful strategies that could work (not guaranteed, but worth trying). Let’s call them the Three Ds.

When the tantrum is just starting, you can sometimes succeed to halt it in its tracks before it blows into a major episode. Never say “Don’t cry, don’t scream, don’t be naughty. By emphasising the negative, you are teaching your child to cry, to scream and to be naughty. Emphasise the positive.

If your child is small, immediately lift him up and say something like, “ Look at that spider crawling in the corner. Let’s catch it.” Go down on your hands and knees with him and pretend you are searching for the elusive spider. This can be varied by mentioning something he likes, for example. “Would you like to play ball with me in the garden?” “Shall we telephone Grandma to bring us an ice cream?” This is only limited by your imagination but the most important thing is that you cut short the tantrum and immediately replace it with an alternative interesting thing for him to think about or do.

If this doesn’t work, lift him up and take him into another room, the garden, upstairs, anywhere …. Changing the environment often changes the situation and together with Distraction, can be the most effective way of cutting the tantrum short. A change of scenery or a new activity can often change his mood and make him forget what he was crying about in the first place.

Older children need different strategies. They need a ‘Discussion’ approach where after a major tantrum (at least a few hours later or the next day) you sit your child on your lap, take him for a walk, curl up in bed with him and have a private chat. You shouldn’t say “I don’t like your behaviour, shouting, tantrums, bad behaviour etc. but emphasise that you want peace and quiet in the house with no shouting. Tell her that together you are going to make this happen.

Talk about why he shouts, what would be a better way of getting what he wants (e.g. asking nicely), what does he think you could do to make sure there are no raised voices or bad tempers. You will see that children often come up with a variety of ideas, some of which will open your eyes and make you understand what are the triggers and help you plan out how to avoid or at least minimise tantrums.

Make a plan with your child and let her know what will happen if she has a tantrum in future. You need to have a plan (no threats, no punishments, no shouting) but she needs to know in advance what you will do if she has a tantrum. It always has to be the same action or non-action. You can tell her that any tantrums will result in the same outcome, e.g. having a packet of crisps in her lunch bag or something which is relevant to your child. Think carefully what action or non-action you choose but make sure you always have the same reaction. Be consistent, don’t keep changing your reaction and keep your word.