Applied Psychology

Temper Tantrums and How to Deal with them

Sep 29, 2020 | By Saranne Durham
Temper Tantrums and How to Deal with them

All kids have tantrums and no parent looks forward to them. How to deal with them varies from child to child. So much so that a tantrum strategy that works on one child may not help when dealing with a sibling’s tantrum. This article looks at what tantrums are, some of their root causes and outlines 5 things that can help curb tantrums and 5 things that you want to avoid. Finally, it outlines when it is a good idea to seek assistance with a tantrum pattern.

Are Tantrums Normal?

A temper tantrum is a sudden outburst of frustration and anger. It can be verbal or physical or both. They are a completely normal part of childhood development and usually last between 2 and 15 minutes. Tantrums are most common in children aged one to four years.

What Causes Tantrums?

Children experience strong emotions ahead of being able to express how they feel in a socially acceptable manner. So, while they learning to control and express their emotions it is not uncommon for children to have outbursts of unplanned frustration and anger.

10 Possible Reasons Why Tantrums Occur:

  1. Frustration at not being able to communicate what they want or feel
  2. Over-tired
  3. Hungry
  4. Over-stimulation or needing to have some down or alone time
  5. Testing boundaries and discovering they can’t have their own way
  6. Having something taken away from them
  7. Transitioning between two places such as home and day care
  8. Confusion – when a child isn’t sure what is being expected of them
  9. Feeling worried, insecure or upset and not knowing how to perceive something
  10. Tension within their home or day care

Often removing a child, who isn’t calming down, from their immediate surroundings will assist in halting the tantrum.

How to Deal with Tantrums

There are ways to deal with tantrums that can deescalate them before they happen or while one is happening. And there are ways to escalate them quickly or spark a tantrum.

5 Things that Help

  1. Identify the Feeling: Help them by identify and label feelings by describing what you seeing when you see they gearing up for a tantrum or leading them through “unpacking” how they feel. An emotion chart can help a child express themselves and identify their own feelings.
  2. Acknowledge the feelings but not the behaviour: One way of doing this is to say to your child that they are allowed to feel frustrated or angry but if they want to have a tantrum, they need to go to their bedroom to have it. You’ll be surprised at how many children will actually do this!
  3. Reward Good Behaviour: Reinforce good behaviour through specific praise. For example: Thank you for using your indoor voice and not shouting when you got frustrated in the shop. This reenforces a child’s respectable behaviour and acknowledges their good choices.
  4. Routine: Establish a consistent daily routine that a child is aware of and that can assist with preventing your child from being over-tired or hungry. While routines need to allow some flexibility to be maintained, their magic lies in the way that structure augments feelings of security.
  5. Set a Good Example: Remember how you behave when you frustrated or angry is going to be copied by your child. Consistently make sure that you behave in the way you expect your child to.

5 Things that make Tantrums Worse

  1. Don’t lose Your Temper, Lecture or Threaten: This will escalate the situation, resulting in embarrassment for both you and your child. Rather discuss it with them, away from everyone else, once they have calmed down.
  2. Do not Give in: Giving into a tantrum’s demands will teach a child how to manipulate you through bad behaviour.
  3. Do not Bribe: Giving a treat to stop bad behaviour is teaching a child that if they act in-appropriately they will be rewarded.
  4. Inconsistency: If you aren’t consistent in your reaction or following through on what you say (eg: punishments, consequences, rewards or reinforcing expectations) a child is likely to be confused and feel insecure.
  5. Leave them Alone: While it can be helpful to remove yourself from their line of sight during a tantrum, you or someone you trust must always be able to see them.

Reasons to seek Assistance

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine divided tantrums into four categories: Non-destructive aggression (stamping, non-directed kicking, hitting eg: wall), aggressive-destructive (kicking and hitting others, throwing and breaking objects), oral aggression (biting and spitting on others) and self-injurious (hitting and biting self, holding breath and head banging). The occasional or isolated extreme tantrum is usually not a worry – what parents should watch out for is a pattern within the tantrums. It is recommended that parents seek help if:

  1. The tantrums last longer than 15 minutes.
  2. The tantrums get worse or they continue after the age of 4.
  3. During the tantrum, the child injures themselves, others or destroys property.
  4. A child has frequent tantrums each day for an extended stretch (eg: every day for a month).

You are uncertain as to how to safely handle their tantrum or feel like you aren’t coping with their behaviour.

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