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A Parent’s Guide to Tantrums

A child’s temper tantrum is a natural part of their development, but they certainly don’t make it any easier for parents. There are many reasons children throw tantrums or have emotional outbursts, ranging from unmet wants and needs to feelings of fear, frustration, anger, or sensory overload. When navigating tantrums, it’s important to acknowledge and address them, so the tantrums are less likely to continue. Here are some steps you can take when they happen.

Assessing the Situation

The first step in managing a tantrum is understanding its cause. Children have not yet learned to cope with the big emotions of growing up, which can lead to tantrums. Therefore, identifying what triggers your child’s tantrums, or what mental health professionals call a “functional assessment,” is an important step in stopping them from happening. By closely observing the pattern of your child’s tantrums, you may discover how they react when they are tired, hungry, or overstimulated, or you may uncover underlying problems such as abuse, neglect, social anxiety, ADHD, or a learning disorder.

Responding to the Temper Tantrums

First, remain calm. A parent’s response to a tantrum can affect the likelihood of it happening again. Yelling and physical punishment should be avoided as much as possible, as these can worsen the situation. Bribing, begging, and “giving in” are not helpful either, as these can reinforce the tantrum, making it more likely to happen again. 

Consistency is key. It’s important to show your child that their behavior won’t produce a different response. For tantrums that aren’t dangerous, the goal is to ignore the behavior and withdraw all parental attention, including negative attention, such as reprimanding or trying to persuade the child to stop, which can positively reinforce the behavior. Parents who react calmly and consistently to their child’s outbursts help their child understand where the boundaries are, which can help children feel more protected and in control. 

Helping your child understand their emotions in all tantrum situations is important in preventing tantrums from happening again, and for helping set your child up to regulate their feelings as they grow. Also, showing them support through hugs and reassurance can help reinforce this. 

The last step in handling a tantrum is to move on once it’s over. Many children seem to snap out of a tantrum as quickly as they got into one in the first place; it also keeps things consistent and teaches your child to process their emotions and move on without causing harm.

If your child is behaving aggressively — hitting, kicking, biting, or throwing things – you must approach the behavior differently and immediately. Stop them immediately and remove your child from the situation. While their behavior is not OK, it’s important to make it clear to your child that their feelings are OK and valid, while also making it clear that hurting others or themselves is not. Remember, your child will follow your lead when handling their anger. If you yell, they will match your volume. But let your child be angry; anger is important in children’s development.

How to Prevent Temper Tantrums

Preventing tantrums in children can be challenging, and big feelings are a part of growing up, but there are several things parents can do to reduce their likelihood. 

    • By recognizing and avoiding common triggers like exhaustion, fear, overstimulation, and hunger, parents can create a more comfortable environment for their children. 
    • Following a routine can help children feel more secure and understand what to expect.
    • Parents can also make activities that might trigger tantrums more manageable for their children by modifying their environment, such as providing noise-canceling headphones for loud environments or fidget toys in situations requiring their children to sit still. 
    • Using simple language, everyday words, and speaking in short, clear sentences can help parents communicate the steps that will take place in a situation to provide an understanding of what to expect from their child.
    • Understanding that avoiding tantrums doesn’t mean giving in to a child’s demands is crucial. Instead, it means separating the unwanted tantrum response from other issues. By reducing the likelihood of a tantrum response, parents also take away the opportunity to reinforce that response. Fewer tantrums mean children will learn to deal with their needs, desires, and setbacks more maturely. 

When it comes to handling tantrums, there are many effective approaches that parents can take to manage and prevent them. When confronted with a tantrum, it’s important to remain calm and composed. Take a moment to understand your child’s feelings and perspective, and then respond in a way that is sensitive to their needs. By doing so, you can effectively communicate with your child and help them manage their emotions. At the end of the day, one of the most important aspects of parenting is recognizing that your child is a unique human being with their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. By working with them as they grow and develop, you can help your child  become a confident and resilient individual.

It is important that all young children have an early childhood developmental screening – they are free across Wyoming. If you notice persistent and intense tantrums with your child, we encourage you to have your child screened to ensure their emotional well-being and development are on track. Find a screening center near you!
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