The 6 Steps to Stopping Tantrums Today
Nothing is quite as gut-wrenching -- and embarrassing -- as watching your child throw a temper tantrum. The crying, the screaming and the pounding of little fists on the supermarket floor can break even the calmest parents. Trust me -- I know. My two-year-old can tantrum with the best of them. Just last week, he threw an epic outburst because I handed him the wrong spoon!
These strong reactions aren’t just hard on the parents. While developmentally normal between the ages of one and four, emotionally draining tantrums are rough on kids, too. These proven techniques have helped me stop my son’s tantrums in his tracks. I hope they help you, too!
Step 1: Remain Calm
It’s tempting to match your child’s emotional level with crying and screaming of your own, but that only intensifies the situation. Take a deep breath before responding. If you’re in public, try not to react with embarrassment.
Step 2: Get Down
Crouch low so you’re at eye level with your child. Hold her hand gently or offer a hug. Assess if your child is actually scared, frustrated, tired or hungry; tantrums are often caused by these triggers, which you can easily resolve by offering a distraction (“Do you want to go outside for a minute?”) or a snack (“Would you like a sip of milk?”).
Step 3: Use Simple, Repetitive Phrases
Show your child you empathize with them by repeating back what they are saying. If your son is screaming, “I want to slide again! More slide!” respond with “More slide! More slide! I hear you!” Remember that just because you’re acknowledging what they want doesn’t mean you have to give into it. Once your child realizes that you understand him, ask him to take slow, deep breaths. I instruct my son to pretend he’s blowing out a candle, which is another fun distraction.
Step 4: Choices and Consequences
Tantrums often occur because kids feel as though they have no control, so offer alternative choices that you can live with. For example, “You cannot go down the slide again, but when we get to the car, we can either listen to the Frozen soundtrack or sing songs together. Which do you want to do?”
If you’re going to dish out consequences for continuing the tantrum, now is the time to do it: “Again, we can go to the car and listen to music or sing, but if you don’t get up right now, we’re going to do time-out instead.” But when you set a consequence, be prepared to follow through. If the fit continues and you don’t enforce the time-out, your child won’t get the message -- and he’ll resort to more tantrums in the future.
Step 5: Don’t Give In
Especially in public, it’s tempting to capitulate to get your child to stop screaming, but this is a short-term solution with long-term consequences that will extend well into the school years. Try to never give in.
Step 6: Know When to Disengage
Sometimes these methods just don’t work, and it’s just more effective to get out, even if it means cutting your errands short or leaving the restaurant in the middle of a meal. While tantrums are often triggered by frustration or low blood sugar, some are simply for attention. Calmly leaving the situation sends the message that the behavior won’t be tolerated.