How to Deal With Your Child's Temper
by Brenna E. Lorenz
throw tantrums and some never do. Children throw tantrums as a way of expressing
anger and frustration. If the behavior is dealt with incorrectly, the child
may learn to use tantrums to manipulate people and to gain attention. In
dealing with tantrums, the ultimate goal is to teach the child acceptable
ways of expressing anger.
Surviving the tantrum
The most important
things to remember when your child is in the throes of a tantrum are:
a) Don't punish the child.
b) Don't reward the child.
c) Stay calm and ignore the behavior
to the extent possible.
d) Keep the child safe.
e) Isolate the child if possible.
f) Don't let the disapproval of
other people affect your response to the tantrum.
When your child
throws a tantrum, she is essentially out of control. You must make sure
that you stay firmly in control. Punishing the child for throwing
a tantrum, by yelling or spanking for example, makes the tantrum worse
in the short term and prolongs the behavior in the long term. Trying to
stop the tantrum by giving in to the child's demands is even worse. This
is the way to teach a child to use tantrums for manipulation, and will
cause the behavior to continue indefinitely, even into adulthood.
When the child throws
a tantrum at home, calmly carry her to a place where she can be left safely
by herself, such as a crib or a playpen. Then leave the room, shut the
door, and don't go back until she calms down. When the child is calm, have
a talk with her about her behavior. If you don't feel safe leaving the
child alone, stay with her, but don't respond to the tantrum in any way.
Don't even make eye contact.
If the child throws
a tantrum in public, carry him out of the public area if possible, and
take him to a place where you can have some privacy. The best place to
take him is to the car, where he can be buckled into his car seat. Then
you stand near the car or sit in the car and wait it out without reacting
to the tantrum. When the tantrum subsides, talk to the child about his
behavior, and then return to your activities.
won't be possible for you to escape from the public place easily. For example,
if you are in a commercial jet and the child throws a tantrum while you
are coming in for a landing (as my daughter once did), you are basically
stuck where you are. Likewise, you may find it hard to escape if you are
standing in a long check-out line at the grocery store with a cart full
of groceries. Under such circumstances, all you can do is grit your teeth
and hang on. Ignore the screaming child. Ignore the glares and snide remarks
of the people around you. Keep your cool. (Anyway, a screaming child in
a check-out line speeds it up, so your child is actually doing everyone
a favor.) Once you are able to make your escape, talk to the child about
Teaching the child alternatives to tantrums
Once your child
has settled down, you and she need to have a talk right away while the
memories of the episode are still fresh in her mind. She threw the tantrum
because she was angry or frustrated. Don't get into the issue of why she
was angry or frustrated. Concentrate on the tantrum itself, explaining
to the child that the behavior isn't appropriate. Then teach her what she
should do instead when she feels angry. This works with children of any
age, even toddlers. Your toddler will understand you. Toddlers understand
far more than they are able to express.
the behavior: "You felt angry and you threw a tantrum. You were screaming,
throwing things, and kicking the walls." You say this so the child will
understand exactly what you are talking about.
Then you explain
that tantrums are not proper behavior. Make sure that you are clear that
the tantrum is bad, not the child. "Tantrums are not appropriate
behavior. In our family, we don't scream and throw things and kick. That
behavior is not acceptable." This has an impact on the child, because your
child wants to do the right thing. You help her by explaining that tantrums
are the wrong thing. And don't worry about using big words such as "appropriate."
If you use big words with a child, the child will learn big words. If you
use only little words, your child will learn only little words.
Then give the
child some alternatives: "I know you felt angry. When you are angry, what
you do is say, 'I'm angry!' Can you say that?" Have the child repeat
the phrase after you.
what you have said. "What are you going to say next time you're angry?"
Get her to repeat the phrase, "I'm angry!" Then say, "Next time
you're angry, are you going to scream?" The child will probably say or
indicate "no." "Next time you're angry, are you going to throw things?"
"Next time you're angry, are you going to kick?" End up with, "Tell me
again what you're going to do next time you're angry."
You will have
to repeat this discussion many, many times. It takes a long time for a
child to learn how to control a temper tantrum.
You may notice after
awhile that certain settings and circumstances seem to precipitate your
child's tantrums. My daughter, for example, always threw tantrums when
we went to a restaurant.
You can prevent
tantrums by talking to the child beforehand. Explain to the child what
you are about to do. ("We're going to go have lunch at Taco Kid.") Then
tell the child what kind of behavior you expect, putting your expectations
in positive terms. ("At Taco Kid, we're going to behave well. That means
we will be polite, speak quietly, and use our words to ask for things and
to say how we feel.") After you have told the child what you want, tell
him what you don't want. ("We will not scream, throw things or kick. We
don't do those things in public. It bothers people.") This tells the child
not only what behaviors to avoid, but why to avoid them. Then get the child
to agree to this. Say, "Now, tell me how you're going to behave when we
go out. Are you going to speak quietly?" The child should indicate "yes."
"Are you going to use your words?" "Yes." "Are you going to scream or throw
things or kick?" "No." Then say, "That's great! We'll have a good time!"
My daughter never once threw a tantrum if she agreed ahead of time not
to. Run through this litany every time you plan to go out, because if you
forget, the child will revert to tantrums in that environment!
If your child
tends to throw tantrums in stores after you refuse the child's demand for
treats, you can often avert the tantrum by making a game out of the child's
demand, as follows:
Child: "I want
You: "I want
a rocket ship to Mars."
You: "Give me
a rocket ship to Mars."
You: "I'll give
you candy if you give me a rocket ship to Mars."
(Pretending to hand you something.)
(Pretending to hand the child something.)
this isn't real."
You: "What you
gave me wasn't real, either."
I don't have a real rocket ship!"
I guess you're out of luck, then!"
This may not
work with every child, but it worked with my daughter. It's good for a
child to learn that it's okay to want things, but it doesn't follow that
a person always gets what he wants.
Another way of
dealing with the grocery store tantrum is to discuss treats with the child
beforehand. Tell the child where you are going, and what kind of treats,
if any, the child can expect to get at the store. You might say, "When
we go to the store, you can select one lollipop, any flavor you like, as
a treat." Make it clear that one lollipop is all the child will get. If
you don't want the child to get a treat that day, you should tell this
to the child ahead of time. A child will often accept not getting a treat
if told beforehand. But make sure that whatever you tell the child before
the trip to the store, you stick to it!
Be patient and good luck!
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