Coping with Tantrums - TeachersAndFamilies

Coping with Tantrums
Ideas for parents


An Ounce of Prevention

It is much easier to prevent temper tantrums than it is to manage them once they have erupted. Here are some tips for preventing temper tantrums:

Notice and reward your child's positive behavior rather than negative behavior. During situations when they are prone to temper tantrums, "catch 'em being good." For example, say, "Nice job sharing with your friend."

Don't ask your child to do something when they must do what you ask. Don't say, "Would you like to eat now?" at dinner time; just announce, "It's suppertime now."

Give the child control over little things whenever possible by giving them choices. A little bit of power now can stave off the big power struggles later. "Which do you want to do first--brush your teeth or put on your pajamas?"

Keep off-limit objects out of sight and therefore out of mind. During an art activity, keep the scissors out of reach if children are not ready to use them safely.

Distract the child by redirecting her to another activity when she starts to tantrum over something she should not do or cannot have. "Let's read a book together."

Change environments, thus removing the child from the source of the temper tantrum. "Let's go for a walk."

Choose your battles. Teach your child how to make a request without a temper tantrum and then honor his request. "Try asking for that toy nicely and I'll get it for you."

Make sure that your child is well rested and fed when approaching situations where she is likely to have a temper tantrum. "Supper is almost ready; here's a cracker for now."

Avoid boredom. "You have been working on that puzzle for a long time. Let's take a break and do something else."

Create a safe environment that children can explore without getting into trouble. Child-proof your home so toddlers can explore safely.

Increase your tolerance level. Remember that parenting is a full-time job. Are you available to meet this child's reasonable needs? Evaluate how many times you say, "No" to this child. Avoid conflicts over minor things.

Establish routines and traditions. These add structure and predictability to your child's life. Start dinner with opportunity for sharing the day's experiences; start bedtime with a story

Signal the child before you reach the end of an activity so that he can get prepared for the transition. "When the timer goes off in five minutes, it will be time to turn off the TV and get ready for bed."

Explain to your child beforehand what to expect when visiting new places or unfamiliar people,. "There will be lots of people at the zoo. Be sure to hold onto my hand."

Provide learning, behavioral, and social activities that are the child's developmental level so that they do not become either frustrated or easily bored. Children should be ready for new experiences so that they find challenge without undue difficulty.

Keep a sense of humor to divert the child's attention and surprise them out of the tantrum. Humor and perspective can to much for your own sanity as well.

Help children to develop an awareness of early signs of a temper tantrum. For example, say, "I see you are rocking in your chair now; what are you thinking?" With practice the child could learn to signal you when he notices that he is beginning to have a temper tantrum. Then help him with some of the above prevention strategies.

Teach your child some personal relaxation strategies such a deep breathing, stretching, or visual imagery-imagining pleasant places, activities, etc that help her feel calm and safe. Help her learn to use relaxation when she feel frustrated and on the brink of a meltdown.

Teach children to express anger constructively. Model how you calm yourself down. For example, take your child for a walk with you when you get upset about something, and explain how the walk makes you feel better. Teach your child to avoid power struggles by reminding him that you will listen to his problem only when he has calmed down. Help your child develop a feeling vocabulary by labeling the feelings she is demonstrating. For example, say, "You look confused, let me see if I can help." You and the child could come up with a variety of creative ways to deal with anger and draw pictures to illustrate these ideas. Some ways of avoiding anger might include playing with a favorite toy, drawing in a coloring book, listening to music, etc.

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Provided by the National Association of School Psychologists, this article is adapted from a handout written by Robert G. Harrington, PhD., Department of Psychology and Research in Education, University of Kansas. He has trained teachers and parents across the U.S. in the social skills development of their young children. This handout will appear in the second edition of Helping Children at Home and School: Handouts for Parents and Educators, published in 2004 by the National Association of School Psychologists.
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