Temper tantrums are something that no parent, teacher, or child care provider is a stranger to. Although tantrums are very normal for children, dealing with them the proper way can be difficult and frustrating. Temper tantrums first occur around the ages of 12-15 months and are relatively easy to handle and quick to stop. They peak at around 18-36 months of age when they become longer, more frequent, and grow in intensity. However, as the language skills of the child develop, tantrums are often exhibited less frequently. Bedtime, rushed transitions between activities, mealtime, and playtime are all things that can trigger temper tantrums. Here are some do’s and don’ts that may help you prepare for and respond to temper tantrums in the home, daycare, or classroom:
Do give time for proper transitions. A very basic way to prevent tantrums is to give reminders about the upcoming changes. One way you can achieve this is by telling the child the routine as you go. For example: “We are going to eat lunch, and then after you can read your book.” Sometimes explaining to the child what is going to happen and not just quickly transitioning them can help them better prepare themselves and their emotions to adjust. Teachers can do this by giving a 5-minute or 2-minute warning before the activity is over.
Do not try to reason with the child. Sometimes we get frustrated with children when we expect them to act older than they are. You should not try to coax the child to behave or reason with them because a child who is throwing tantrums is often not old enough to understand these things. Although rewarding good behavior can be effective, you must be careful of your approach and that it does not promote more bad behavior.
Do ignore the bad behavior. Children throw temper tantrums to seek attention. Not giving them this attention can put a quick end to the behavior. If the child can effectively get your attention and distract from the situation, they quickly learn that as a technique to get out of something or get your attention in the future.
Do not give the child what he/she wants. Allowing the child to escape from or avoid their situation or convince you to give them the meal they wanted or let them stay up later does not teach children good coping skills. They need to learn that even if something is frustrating to them, that does not mean that they get to avoid it.
Do give a brief timeout. Sometimes a child needs to work through their emotions in their environment and sometimes they need to be removed from their environment to regain control of their emotions. A brief timeout may help to get their emotions back in control and be able to move forward. The most important part of a timeout is that you end it with “timeout is over” so that the child knows there is an end to their timeout. Remember that the general rule of thumb is a minute of timeout for every year of age of the child.
Do not get frustrated. Children read the emotions of the adults around them and always mirror what they see. The worst thing you can do for any child is mirror their frustration, yell at them, or be impatient with them. After all, we cannot expect our children to respond appropriately to stressful or frustrating situations if we cannot.
Do teach coping skills. Another strategy that may help reduce tantrums is teaching children how to deal with their emotions. Teach the child that instead of getting frustrated and throwing a tantrum over a difficult task to say, “I am getting frustrated, may I please have some help?” or if the child is protesting an activity, teach them how to properly express themselves in a healthy way.
Do not treat every child the same way. All children are different and therefore, need to be interacted with differently. While some techniques work for some children, others may not, and you need to adjust your strategies to the personality of the individual child and learn how they process thoughts and feelings.
Do give them choices. One very effective strategy for reducing tantrums is giving children choices. Instead of saying “You have to take a bath and then you have to clean your room,” you could try this: “Do you want to clean your room before or after you take a bath?” This lets the child know that they must do each task, but they can decide which one comes first.
By learning about common tantrum triggers and some strategies to prevent them, you can better prepare yourself as a parent, teacher, or childcare provider to properly respond to them and perhaps even avoid them altogether.