Dealing with Tantrums

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The Behavioral Tips and mental health advice provided on this Web site are for educational purposes only. The information provided on this site, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical, psychiatric or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, consultation, or the advice of your physician or mental health provider.
If you believe you have a medical or psychiatric emergency (including but not limited to suicide, homicide, or being gravely disabled – meaning the inability to care for oneself) you should call 911 and your medical provider immediately. If you have any questions regarding your mental health or medical condition, you should promptly consult your physician or mental health provider.
A crucial factor to treating all mental health conditions, especially when working to improve behaviors, is consistency and making sure that all parties are on the same page. Otherwise, the message is lost, and children will get the wrong message. Namely, that they can get away with it, someone will give in, or that there is no consequence for their behavior. Being consistent, optimistic, and straight forward is your best bet. Know your limitations, and if at any time you feel like you’re overwhelmed or in over your head, immediately seek professional help.

Common Causes:

Possible Remedies:

  1. Don’t give them attention. Either by touch or eye-contact. In essence, stay calm and try to ignore the behavior to avoid any perception of reward. The only exception to this is a toddler who may just need soothing. Otherwise, don’t give in.
  2. Don’t try to reason with them. They are not in any state to accept rational thinking and at this point they’re only trying to get their way. Make sure you send the message that this is not the way to do it.
  3. Don’t show them that you’re angry. This may be the reaction they’re trying to elicit. So, giving them that satisfaction only rewards their undesired behavior.
  4. Make sure they are safe. Some kids may have the tendency to become more volatile by hitting or breaking things. They are trying to “up the ante,” to get your attention. Make sure that they are not hurting themselves or others or damaging property to demonstrate that you have the situation under control. Don’t allow it to progress into a physical altercation and immediately get professional help if you feel it may lead to this.
  5. Don’t punish them right away. Only talk to them once they have calmed down. Let the tantrum subside and then let them know that there are consequences to their behavior. Provide them with better ways of getting their needs met and always compliment and reward positive behavior.
  6. Remove them from the situation. Try to leave public places as soon as feasible. This will prevent them from getting positive or negative attention from others; while at the same time teach them that there are immediate consequences.
  7. Don’t be influenced by others to discipline your child immediately. Stick with your plan to not give them attention and people will figure it out eventually that you are being consistent. It’s okay if they think you’re a bad parent. Be a good role-model by staying calm and consistent.
  8. Prevention is the key. Understand that they may simply be tired or hungry and address those needs, ideally prior to them becoming a problem.
  9. Describe and reward positive behaviors. Avoid telling them that they are bad, or using negative terms of such as “you’re a brat” or the “devils child.” These negative terms cause them to believe that this is who they are and eventually may cause them to want to live up to the title, since they already have it.
  10. Distraction may work. If you’re fast enough and can catch the early warning signs of a tantrum, you can re-direct their attention to something else. Try using humor or point to something with your best exhilarated acting voice and say something like, “Wow look at that,” as you point to the object. Continue to talk about the object without stopping as if nothing else happened. You’ll be surprised how many times this one has saved me in public places.