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Get Your Child’s Tantrums Under Control

You have an intense child or a special needs child who occasionally throws tantrums or becomes over-stimulated and difficult to deal with . . . even in public sometimes!   Tantrums are typically exhibited by toddlers but can be exhibited by children of other age groups as well.  What can you do to limit the amount of time that your child exhibits tantrums (i.e., not beyond the toddler years) and to minimize the intensity of tantrums?

  • When over-stimulation or tantrums are not currently underway, take the time to explain to your child what your expectations are regarding his/her behaviors (in public or in private). Your child will not typically be reasonable during a tantrum, so setting expectations proactively works best. Initially, your child may be too young to understand what you are saying, but persevere. A consistent message, reinforced consistently over time, is the best method of teaching children. Your message should be positive rather than punitive in tone. For example, you can say, “I expect you to be the polite little one that I’ve seen you be so many times. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ and follow all the other rules about manners that we’ve talked about.” works better than “You’d better not throw tantrums while we’re at the store. I will not tolerate that.”
  • If reasonable, try to limit your child’s exposure to the things that send your child into a tantrum. For example, if your child is over-stimulated by being in large crowds for anything more than brief moments, try to avoid taking your child to locations at which large crowds will be. However, this proactive solution will not always be your best recourse. Some triggering situations, of necessity, must involve your child. In such circumstances, reinforce your expectations before you take your child into the difficult situation and then praise or redirect your child for behaviors that are consistent with or vary from expectations.
  • Consider proactively setting consequences for your child: if your child behaves per expectations, he/she may receive a snack when you return home; if your child behaves contrary to expectations, he/she may receive a half hour confined to his/her room when you return home. Then, you should follow up and deliver the consequences (positive or negative) that you promised.
  • When your child throws a tantrum/becomes over-stimulated in private, respond to any safety concerns first. For example, if your child has thrown him-/herself on the concrete floor and is flailing his/her arms and legs, injury may occur. Address that safety concern first. Then, take your child to his/her room, ask him/her to decompress privately in the peace and calm of his/her room, and tell him/her that you will be back in ____ minutes, after he/she has calmed down, to discuss whatever may be the matter. When you discuss the matter with your child thereafter, try to determine what caused your child to be over-stimulated or have a tantrum. Did he/she feel frustrated or upset about a specific situation? Did he/she try to manipulate you?
  • When your child throws a tantrum/becomes over-stimulated in public, respond to any safety concerns first. Then, where possible, remove your child from the public setting as quickly as possible (i.e., take the child out of the steak house and go sit in your car for a while to help your child settle down). Once you have taken your child to a non-public venue, ask your child to sit in silence with you for ___ minutes after which time you two can discuss what went wrong. If you cannot remove your child from the public setting, you will hopefully be able to have this same period of quiet and then conversation while in the public setting. Know that it takes a child a while to settle down, so the period of quiet doesn’t begin as soon as you declare it so.
  • Some children need to spend physical energy to get past a tantrum. You may designate a physical task for your child to do while “recovering” from a tantrum. For example, go for a walk with your child. You can have your quiet time and then your what-went-wrong chat while on your walk.
  •  Be calm and patient at all times. Communicate to your child that you are in control of the situation and are there to help your child through the difficulty.
  • Communicate your steps that will be taken with your nanny, to ensure consistency.

By following these steps, you can feel confident that you are doing everything you reasonably can to limit the age range in which your child will exhibit tantrums and to limit the intensity of the tantrums when they occur.  Once you successfully complete this stage of your child’s development, you will find that you have created a healthy foundation for your child’s later stages of development.

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