Tantrums usually peak in the toddler years. Modern magazines and parenting books usually offer the same type of advice. Either ignore the tantrum or get down on the child’s level and attempt to reason.
But there are potential weaknesses to these 2 approaches.
- Ignoring or trying to distract a child who’s having a tantrum is evasive. You’re missing out on a teachable moment, the chance to show him that tantrums will not be tolerated (they are obnoxious and disrespectful!) and that anger is an emotion which can be controlled. It also doesn’t work because children don’t just throw tantrums for attention.
- Trying to reason with a young child has its limits. Many tantrums happen before the age of one, and children are not even talking at that point. Besides, am I the only one who finds it extremely difficult to have a calm and rational discussion with a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater who’s kicking and flailing on the floor? 😉
Why do tantrums happen? Contrary to what many think, most children don’t throw tantrums for attention. They throw fits because they are angry or frustrated. Something didn’t go their way. Someone didn’t give them what they wanted. A toy didn’t work the way it should. Whatever the reason, they “lose it” and collapse in an immature fit of uncontrolled anger.
You can, and should, teach your toddler that a tantrum is not an acceptable way to deal with anger. This is true for all of us, right? Ever seen an adult throw a tantrum? It happens, and it ain’t pretty. Society will thank you for instilling these lessons early on.
That’s why our approach to tantrums as a family has always been the common sense one. From the beginning, we make it clear that: (1) tantrums are not acceptable behavior. And (2): we teach our children how to deal appropriately with anger and frustration.
So how do you deal with a tantrum when it happens? Again, use common sense, the same as you would with any behavior that’s not tolerated in your household. Stop it in its tracks. Teach the child. And then discipline if there is defiance. Let your no mean no.
What does this look like in the real world?
Let’s suppose my 2-year-old (Samuel) wants some juice. I say to him “Ok, just a minute.” He falls on the floor and begins to whine and cry because he has to wait. I very swiftly pick him up and make him stand. “No!” I tell him very firmly. He starts to whine and cry again, but before he can fall on the floor, I grab him so he can’t. “No falling out!” I say, looking him in the eye to show I mean business. I repeat this until he’s quiet and willing to listen. Then I say “Can you wait just a minute for your juice?” If he pouts or doesn’t answer, I’ll coach him. “Say, yes, Mama.” After he says it nicely, I will tell him “That’s good. Next time, I want you to be a sweet boy like that. Ok?”
It’s can be very effective to gently hold your child while correcting. Reinforce what you’re asking him to do (be quiet, be still.)
Another scenario. My 3-year-old is playing with his toy. His baby sister comes up and takes it. He screams bloody murder and a tug-of-war ensues. Both are now screaming in anger. I tell him “No screaming!” and if he doesn’t stop, I come over and give him “the look” while again telling him to stop screaming. If he doesn’t obey, he’s disciplined. If he’s quiet, I will then begin to mediate. “Let go of the toy.” Now I will teach him to say “please” or something else nice to the baby, and see if she will hand it over. If not, I will ask her myself (this often works because it’s Mama). She gladly gives it to me with a smile. I hand it to my son and teach him to say “thank you!” to his sister. I will then remind him “Next time be a sweet boy to your brothers and sisters. They love you!”
Whatever you do, don’t forget consistency! Sticking to your guns is as important as dealing with the tantrum itself. That means repeating these scenarios 100 times if necessary. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Some young children, depending on temperament, take a long time to learn any given lesson. And the moment you throw your hands up, then they know you aren’t as committed as you should be.
Swift action, appropriate discipline and instruction DO work. They are time-tested methods, and thousands (if not millions) of years old. One day, your child will stop giving into fits of anger. One day he’ll ask you for help with a toy instead of throwing it across the room – or at another child! One day you will hear him ask “Could I have my car back?” instead of yelling and shoving his brother to the ground. One day you will tell him “No, we can’t buy that today,” at the store and he’ll smile and say “Maybe for my birthday?” instead of crying and screaming as you put it back on the shelf.
Got questions or comments about tantrums? Please post below!