How to Prevent Temper Tantrums
“When my daughter sat down amongst the traffic and screamed I knew I needed help managing her behaviour.”
I have a bit of an issue with media portrayal of perfect family life. It really annoys me when TV commercials are forever posting clips of seemingly flawless families. I see plenty of facebook posts about lovely family holidays and perfect children in the throes of cuteness, but have you ever seen facebook posts of kids in full meltdown mode? Of course not. A bit of a reality check on media platforms might, though, go a long way to help mums and dads struggling to manage the inevitable tantrums that their children will have.
After your child has had its first birthday and cries for no reason then you are likely to hear plenty of jokey comments about the terrible twos and the tantrums that you child will have. However, what no one tells you is that those tantrums can turn into the terrible threes, fours, fives and .. in fact, there is no upper limit on the age of tantrums. I remember telling my ten year old that she was simply too old to get ‘stroppy’ anymore. I’d said the same at nine and eight!
Tips for Handling Tantrums
— Know the triggers and avoid them. The supermarket is probably the place you are most likely to see kids throwing tantrums. To be honest as a fify one year old I sometimes feel like doing the same. I hate shopping for food! Sometimes, to give yourself a break, and if it is possible, why not leave your child with a partner, parent or even child-minder. That way a hellish trip might turn into something of a treat out! Yes, I know that’s a bit sad. It isn’t always possible to avoid taking the kids shopping or even desirable, I get that, but you can avoid the sweets aisle if you don’t want your child to be grabbing for them. Often at the checkout your child will ask for those sneakily placed items guaranteed to make you spend extra cash. If your child has been good all the way round then I’d say let them choose something at that point! Maybe that’s not great parenting, but give yourself a break. I have a twenty and twenty-one year old who have turned out just fine, even with the odd pack of smarties!
— Get down to your child’s level. If your child is just at the beginning of the tantrum stage and starting to get a bit stroppy, there is no point talking over their head. I used to see it all the time at the school I taught in. Parents would drop off their kid who started to wail and then talk to some distant point about four feet higher than the child could see. It didn’t work in calming the child down. To communicate effectively with childen you need to crouch down to their eye level and give eye-contact, otherwise you might as well be talking to the wall!
— Laugh about it. I don’t mean to suggest that tantrums don’t matter and I certainly don’t mean to imply that they are not stressful. They are! If, though, you can actually maintain a sense of humour and remember that it is a natural process of a child learning boundaries and managing their own frustration, then you will feel a little more zen. If you are fortunate enough to meet with other mums or dads, don’t go down the line of pretending your child is perfect and doesn’t throw tantrums. Have a good old laugh about all the terrible situations you’ve found yourself in when your kid has ‘kicked off’.
— Promise the bribe ahead of time. I know this sounds shocking, but if you promise a treat ahead of time (back to the sweets at the end of the supermarket trip) then it becomes a treat and legitimate. There is no need to even link it to ‘being good’ or ‘behaving well’ if that doesn’t sit comfortably with you. Instead you can just casually suggest that you will buy some of the tasty sweets near the end. Alternatively, you can allow a little extrinsic rewarding, but phrase it so that it is mummy or daddy who is also having a treat. For example, “I think after all this shopping we will all need to choose something nice to enjoy on the journey home don’t we.” I know there are potentially lots of pyschological downsides to rewarding with extrinsic things but I don’t think it does any harm. I’m for the don’t over-think it approach to parenting!
— Be loving and intervene early. Tantrums occur when children are frustrated, sad, angry or upset. They can’t manage their feelings. I’m not suggesting that parents shouldn’t ever be cross, but if you catch a tantrum early and react with an outpouring of affection it may just prevent the tantrum from occuring. Getting cross in the middle of a tantrum is unlikely to work. Afterwards when things are all calm is the time to have a gentle chat with your child and figure out what happened. I don’t think children are ever too young to communicate with you and interact about emotional issues.
— Ignore the looks. Half of the stress that you feel when your child has a tantrum is due to the looks you receive from passers-by. My husband once asked a poor female onlooker “what did she think she was staring at?”! In his defence she did look very judgemental. Try to ignore the looks or have a comment at the ready “we’ve all been there, haven’t we.” Let’s be honest, it doesn’t really matter what strangers think.
— Enlist the help of siblings. Kids sometimes throw tantrums because they are bored. If this is the case enlist the help of older siblings to keep them entertained. The elder child may appreciate contributing positively if you ask them appropriately. Don’t assume that they are unpaid baby sitters. Older children’s involvement also needs acknowledging and praising. You can also joke around with role play and have the younger child actually see how ‘silly’ a tantrum can look. This wouldn’t, of course, be during the tantrum iteslf! Also, be careful not to belittle the tantruming child. They are only behaving in a way that is natural. Be sure to comment on the behaviour not the person.
— Use diversions. Distractions and diversions are a great way to avoid tantrums. If you anticipate a time they will occur then have something at the ready. This might be always having a colouring book and pencils to hand or being prepared to sing and act out a few nursery rhymes. This is marginally less embarrassing than your child having an actual tantrum!
— Stick to your rules, but don’t have too many. Be consistent. I don’t want to sound flippant about tantruming and it is important not to give in to a tantruming child. If they ‘win’ then they will be sure to repeat the behaviour. Once a parent says ‘no’ to something then they should stick with that decision. That’s why, in my view, it is easier to simply build in some treats so that a tantruming situation is less likely to occur. What’s the point about battling about every little thing?!
— Walking Away. Some people would suggest walking away as a cure to tantruming. I guess it depends on the child and the situation. If your child can’t come to any physical harm then it is perhaps possible to just ignore the poor behaviour, but I don’t think I would suggest leaving your child for long. I believe there are lots of schools of thought that do suggest ignoring crying or poor behaviour, but I can’t see that ignoring an unhappy child is a good thing really. I don’t know. What do you think? Maybe I’m wrong.
Tantrums Exhaust Parents Too
Managing childhood tantrums can be truly debilitating and exhausting for parents. There are lots of parenting articles about the topic, though I haven’t read them for a lot of years. My kids are grown up and the person most likely to have a tantrum in our household is me — a middle aged mum! Having teenagers in the house brings a whole new set of issues to be aware of! (I would say that if your child seems to have more emotional outbursts than other children and you are sure that your perception of the situation isn’t skewed, then seek help.)
From what I remember these articles don’t often focus on how embarrasing it can feel when your kid kicks off in public. Neither do they focus on the sense of frustration and shame a parent can feel when their child has a tantrum. On the TV you don’t ever see mums so exhausted that they don’t know where to turn; you don’t see kids stropping so much their backs are arched and their screams can be heard ten miles away; you don’t see toddlers simply plonk themselves in the middle of the road and refuse to budge, regardless of any on-coming traffic as my own child did! In this case getting the child to safety was the only concern.
Try to remember when managing tantrums that prevention is always better than cure. If, however, cure is required and you do give way to a child mid way through a tantrum then don’t give yourself a hard time. It isn’t the end of the world. Being kind to yourself is a key rule of parenting. We all need letting off the hook sometimes and that includes mums and dads. In fact, I think you are justified in going a step further, if you manage a tantrum effectively then treat yourself. Adults need rewards too!
(Passionate about education, reading and writing, Sally is an enthusiastic blogger. In Book and Family Chat she frequently posts from the perspective of a fifty year old, fun-loving mum on all things family, book, family and travel related. As an ex Head of Libraries and English teacher she has published several children’s books.)