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Taming Tantrums In Your Child

Taming Tantrums
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

We’ve had some epic tantrums at my house.  Like all-out kicking and screaming and the tantrums felt like they lasted FOREVER.  Part of the reason I’m a child behavior coach is that I had no idea what the heck to do with these types of behaviors with my twin boys. I reacted in ways that didn’t help, fueled the fire, and then I didn’t feel great about my part in the situation once it was over.  Maybe I had a little tantrum of my own?!😂 I knew I needed tools to help with taming tantrums!

You don’t have to do all that training to learn how to help your own little one with taming tantrums – I’ve got you!

What Is a Tantrum?

A tantrum is an emotional outburst that says, “I’m trying very hard to make the world go my way and it isn’t working.”  

Cue crying, screaming, throwing themselves on the floor, kicking their feet.  Sometimes tantrums can turn physical, with hitting, pinching, biting, kicking and throwing things. 

What’s Happening?

For Parents:

Children’s temper tantrums can become a trigger for adults and we can easily find ourselves:

  • Becoming really overwhelmed
  • Giving in to get our child to calm down
  • Screaming and losing our temper
  • Trying to talk to and discipline our child when they are out of control

For Children:

Sometimes when we initiate new rules or boundaries, or even the simplest demand, this will set a child into tantrum mode – especially if our child is hungry, tired or overwhelmed.

Children aren’t pre-meditating the tantrum or purposely trying to make us mad or just being difficult. What is happening is that when they don’t get their way, the intensity of the feeling overwhelms your child’s ability to organize it and the feelings spill over into a tantrum.

During a tantrum, the logical brain shuts down and children have diminished impulse control. A tantrum is all emotion, no higher-level thinking and your child gets an adrenaline rush, which fuels the tantrum.

HELPFUL TIP: I use the mantra “25, 25, 25” in my head when my children aren’t acting logically or I’m feeling triggered.  This mantra serves to remind me that I am dealing with a little person whose brain won’t be fully developed until they are 25 years old!

The Golden Rules

While we want to foster our children expressing their emotions, including anger, during a tantrum many children can become out of control, which results in breaking what we call the Golden Rules. These are:

  • I won’t hurt myself
  • I won’t hurt other people
  • I won’t damage or destroy property

If this happens and the expression of anger becomes unhealthy, it is time for your child to have some time to calm their body down.

Time Outs

Time-outs have gotten a bad rap over the years – the phrase is overused and often the tactic is overused when we are not happy with our child’s behavior. 

For parents, it doesn’t usually yield the desired result and oftentimes it can escalate the tantrum even more or turn it into a battle of wills to try to keep them in time out.  For children, it doesn’t teach them anything so it doesn’t have lasting results. 

So, let’s look at time-out a little differently…

Time-out simply means “a break, rest or a chance to stop.” 

When your child is breaking one of the Golden Rules, calmly guide your little one in a designate spot to help them:

  • Calm down
  • Encourage the behavior to stop
  • Make a better decision

Creating A Time Out Spot

We want to designate a calm down spot in an area of the house where your family spends most of their time. Ideally this spot doesn’t isolate your child, which can further amplify the tantrum.

Try to avoid using your child’s bedroom as a time-out location.  We want the bedroom to be a happy, positive space! (always the sleep consultant!)

HOMEWORK: Have your child pick a comfy space where they can go when they are upset.  Consider something like a peaceful pillow (floor pillow) or the cozy/calm corner with blankets and pillows.  This space can even be dual purpose – setup a small basket of books or a bookshelf so you can snuggle and read here as well, outside of tantrum times.

How Can We Tame Tantrums?

Here are a series of steps that will help you in taming tantrums in your toddler, preschooler or school-aged child.  

I am using hitting as an example and the pronoun he.

Download a printable for your fridge

Step 1: Stay Calm & Don’t Over-Engage

If you lose your cool, you are going to be reacting to your child’s behavior and I don’t know about you, but I don’t make my best decisions when I am in reactionary mode. Also, when we get angry it adds fuel to the fire.

If you can remain calm, you will be able to parent more intentionally. Plus, the tantrum should pass a lot quicker. 

When a temper tantrum is happening, we want to try to avoid over-engaging or over-reacting. Our child is upset and not thinking clearly, so the best thing that we can do is limit our words, stay calm and offer a hug when they are ready. “I see you are really mad. Mommy is here and once you are ready for a hug let me know.”  Once the situation is completely calm, that is when we want to talk about what happened.

Staying Calm Tips:

You can do all of these together…

  • Take at least three deep belly breaths
  • If it is safe to do so, put yourself in time out while you calm down
  • Repeat my favorite mantra: “25, 25, 25”

Step 2: Time Out

If your child has broken one of the Golden Rules, calmly guide your child to their calm down spot and say, “Let’s go sit on your cozy cushion to take a break until your hands aren’t hitting.” 

If your child comes back from the time-out and is still breaking the Golden Rules, calmly guide them back to the time-out spot and tell them that he can come back when he can tell his body to stop hitting. 

Step 3: Focus on The Positive

If he comes back and has stopped hitting, celebrate that he has stopped.

“Oh sweetheart, I see you told your body to stop hitting!  You did it.  I’m proud of you.  Are you ready for a hug?”

(I promise this isn’t permissive parenting – read on before closing the window!)

Step 4: Don’t Punish

Punishment is adult imposed control, that attempts to coerce our children into better behavior.  If we punish our child for their behavior, they don’t learn much.  Your child doesn’t need to suffer or beg for forgiveness when these emotional outbursts happen. 

To help your child to learn healthier habits and new tools to change behavior in the future, the key is discipline, which means “to teach”.

Step 5: Teachable Moment

Once the situation has completely calmed down, now is the time to teach. 

Validate:

“I know that you are mad because you wanted that toy.  That toy is so fun.”

Validation helps to keep your child’s defenses down and ears open to learning.

Arouse empathy:

“Look at my face.  I’m sad because that hurt your brother.”

Tell them what they can and can’t do:

“You can’t hit your brother, but you can say you are mad. What are some things you can do next time you get mad?”

If your child needs ideas, you can say:

“If you are mad, you can stomp your feet or you can come to Mommy to ask for help.”

This teaches your child new tools to respond in a healthier way moving forward.

Step 6: Logical Consequences

One of the hardest parts of parenting is to figure out a logical consequence! What a logical consequence means is that it ties to the behavior and it teaches.

In the hitting example, we could say “say you’re sorry!”

But we can’t force an apology – when we do, the apology is rarely heartfelt.

Another option could to be take away screen time, but what does your child learn from that? Not much.

Instead, when your child is calm, help them figure out what they can do to “make it right”.  

“Buddy – what can you do to make this right? Do you need help coming up with some ideas?”  

Your child could color the other child a picture, demonstrate an act of kindness, like a hug or say, “I’m sorry”. This will teach your child to take responsibility for their actions and show empathy for the other person.

Taking this approach to taming tantrums won’t work miracles at first, but as you start using these tools, you’ll know you’ve got it right if you see the behavior change moving forward! 

If your little one says, “I’m so mad” and stomps their feet, instead of hitting, biting or kicking their sibling, you’ll be one proud parent! 

In Conclusion:

Our children are figuring it all out and we are too!  Let’s give ourselves and our children a lot of grace during the learning process.  Also, remember that your child has the best intentions and they really want to get it right, but while their brain is developing and they are learning, they are going to make mistakes. The tools above will help taming tantrums and teaching your child new behaviors.

If you need help taming tantrums in your house or other not-so-fun child behaviors, we’d love to learn more and share tools and strategies to help your household feel more peaceful and to have more fun as a family! Schedule a Child Behavior Consultation today.

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