Troubleshooting tantrums

20 Nov 2018

Troubleshooting  tantrums

Parenting place family coach Jenny Hale talks tantrums - why children have them, what to do about them, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place. 

Tantrums are a normal part of development. We want our children to grow into independent adults, with all their own thoughts and opinions, but it can be a rocky road. Sometimes our little people get totally overwhelmed with their big feelings of frustration and uncertainty, and find themselves in a tug-of-war between wanting you close and pushing you away.

Children often feel very passionately about things, but don't often have much control over these "big feelings". Not all children have tantrums, but you can be sure that most do, simply because it's likely that a child will want things they can't or shouldn't have. And that's disappointing. Disappointment is unavoidable, but firmness and warmth will help them through this big stage.

What can I do to prevent tantrums from happening?

To prevent tantrums or avoid them escalating, try these tips.

  • Check in and see if your child is tired, hungry, feeling too hot/cold, or feeling disconnected from you.
  • Have predictable routines that your child can count on - it will set a rhythm of safety and certainty for them. Do some things the same way each day. This might mean singing the same song, taking a break for morning tea, having a special story time, or calling Mum or Dad to say hello.
  • Factor in extra time to get things done (like leaving the house) so that the atmosphere stays calmer and more peaceful. Rushing around feels stressful for everyone.
  • Try to stay calm. Children in the throes of a tantrum are often frightened by the intensity of their own emotions. They need the adults in their lives to stay connected to them and to be supportive.
  • Think carefully about what you are going to say to your child's requests or demands. It is important to back yourself up, because they will test you!

What should I do when my child has a tantrum?

The first thing you can do is to put language to what your child might be feeling when they're having a tantrum. An example might be, "It looks like it's tricky for you to put your shoes on the way you like them to go. It sounds like you're frustrated because they're getting stuck. Would you like some help with that good job you are doing?"

Don't over-talk a tantrum. It's easy to spend lots of time focusing on it and mentioning it to others. Be prepared to offer support and comfort so that your child feels your kindness, not your ridicule or anger.

 Tantrums are often about things like:

  • "I want to do this on my own" (put my shoes on, butter my toast, feed myself and do it my way)
  • "I don't want any help"
  • "I don't want to do the thing you're suggesting"
  • "I want to control this situation"
  • "I must have this thing in order to survive"
  • "I'm anxious and afraid"

How to handle public tantrums...

If you’re out in public and your child has a tantrum, be prepared to stay the course. For example, if you’re in the supermarket and your child wants you to buy them a treat, but you have said that today is not a treat day, then follow through – if only to save the next lot of trips to the supermarket! If the noise and scene is unbearable, park your shopping trolley and pop out to the car or a seat outside the store. Cool down, comfort your child, and then return to the job. Having a plan for what you’ll do when out in public can save you from feeling flustered or making decisions too quickly.