Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10 Things to do When a Tantrum Erupts

by Bill Corbett
Author of the award winning parenting book series, "Love, Limits, & Lessons."

When I’m doing a parent workshop and the topic of tantrums is in my talk, I love to show one of my favorite videos that once aired on the national television show, America’s Funniest Videos.  The footage (see clip to the right) shows a toddler having a full blown fit, but only when someone is watching.  This is a prime example of a “controlled” tantrum; the child is in full control of himself and it is probably about being frustrated.  This frustration can come about because he didn’t like the boundaries or limits established by his caregivers, he suddenly became overwhelmed by too many choices, or perhaps being a bit over tired, he may have just wanted things his way.

Tantrums can usually be broken down into two basic categories; frustration and biologically induced.  When the child is frustrated, I often encourage parents to help the child with the frustration or at least sooth them physically (if the child will allow it) to help reduce the energy of the tantrum.  If the tantrum falls in the category I term as “biologically induced,” then it is less likely that the child has any self-control.  In this case, the problem causing or enhancing the tantrum must be attended to (illness, fatigue, hunger, or hypersensitivity).  Here are 10 things a caregiver can do when a tantrum erupts.

1.  Remain calm, center yourself, and breathe deeply; a child’s tantrum can sometimes be a reflection of how you, are feeling or appear to be feeling, at the moment.
2.  Calming yourself in the moment can sometimes help to calm the child as well.
3.  If you must talk, speak very softly and quietly; avoid asking questions.
4.  If the child is ill (cold, fever, ear ache, etc.) a tantrum can easily ignite; take care of the illness immediately or at least the child’s comfort.
5.  Determine if the child is over tired and rock them to sleep.
6.  If you think they are suffering from hunger pangs, offer then something healthy to eat.
7.  In cases of hypersensitivity, remove the item you suspect may be causing the condition.
8.  In cases of simple frustration, focus on the frustration and less on what’s causing it, e.g., don’t remove an important rule just to stop the trantrum.
9.  If it happens out in public, stop your activity, e.g., at the playground, shopping, while visiting.  Stay close to the child, and see if you can wait out the storm.
10. If an end to the tantrum is not in sight, stop what you’re doing and go home.  Don’t speak to the child and contain your own anger and frustration.

Finally, let me direct you back to the first bullet in the list above.  If you are the child’s primary caregiver, you may have more power in influencing the child’s emotional state than you may realize.  Be sure that you are taking care of yourself regularly to keep your “batteries charged.”  If your emotional state is balanced, your child’s may be as well.  At the very least, feeling more centered will give you the strength to know what to do when a tantrum breaks out. 

Connect with me and get more parenting tips at:
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  1. What great advice! This should be a magnet on the fridge! Thanks so much, Carolyn

  2. Great advice, Bill ... and very interesting video! I think it's very helpful for parents to know the difference between types of tantrums and what they can do. Your post gave me the idea to start a new Discipline board on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/discipline/

  3. Thank you Wise Owl Factory and Deb! Thanks for your comments.


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