Coping With Tantrums

Tantrums are something we’ve all seen, whether with our own child or other people’s children. The sight of a child screaming, kicking and crying is very upsetting to the parent and can be a source of embarrassment if it happens when in you are in a public place (such as the supermarket).

So what causes a child to have a tantrum? Most tantrums occur in children between the age of 2 and 3, hence the term “The terrible 2’s”. Your child is communicating anger or frustration by throwing a tantrum. Tantrums are a relatively normal stage of your child’s development as they discover their will and independence. However, they are stressful for parents to deal with.

What can you do to cope when your child throws a tantrum? The main thing is to try and remain calm – it’s not easy!! If you are stressed and react to the tantrum, you might make things worse. If you can remain calm, you help your child to calm down too.

Here are some things you can do to cope:

  • Try ignoring the tantrum. If you’re at home, do something else in the same room and wait for your child to stop. As soon as he does, give him some positive attention such as playing a game with him
  • Try to distract him out of the tantrum. If he’s throwing a tantrum because you haven’t given him something, give him something else.
  • Sometimes, giving your child a hug during the tantrum can soothe him. Use a sympathetic tone of voice as you try to comfort him

The most important thing when dealing with a tantrum is to calmly ask your child why they’re angry and show them that you hear what they’re saying. For example, your son is playing with his sister and conflict breaks out. He starts to scream. Instead of telling him to “stop” or “be quiet”, try asking what is wrong. When he answers, show that you hear him and you sympathise with him. For instance, if he answers “she took my train” you can respond by saying “so you feel very angry because she took your train. When you calm down we’ll try to sort something out.” This demonstrates 3 things:

  • You’ve allowed him to tell you why he’s angry
  • You’ve clearly demonstrated that you were listening (by telling him what you heard)
  • You’ve offered to help him sort it out but ONLY after he calms down

Remember, tantrums are a normal phase of development. It does not mean that your child is badly behaved or that you are a bad parent for being stressed out when it happens. It’s part of the parenting process!