Tantrums can be a normal part of development (especially in the terrible twos). But when they become frequent and intense, it can leave you at your wits end. The tantrums leave you frustrated and embarrased with your ears ringing, unable to cope with one more screaming fit. Many tantrums in younger children go like this: Your child is asking for cookies. It is time for dinner and you say, “No cookies now, I have some chicken and rice for you”. Your child then starts crying, falls to the floor, keeps requesting cookies, and pushes away any other offered food. Any attempt to reason with them or reiterate “no cookies, sorry!” results in more crying. You hope they don’t pop a blood vessel in their face from crying so hard.
In this case, your child is having a tantrum for 2 reasons.
1) They really want a cookie and can’t have it
2) They want attention from you, because
- either you will look at them and get so frustrated and fed up with the tantrum that you will give them a cookie
- they want attention (even if it is yelling and or telling them “no cookies”) so that you can see just how miserable you have made them by being denied a cookie.
What to Do
- Ignore the behavior: Ignoring the tantrum behavior will assure they are not getting extra attention from you while they are upset. Consistently getting no attention for the behavior will make it less likely to occur in the future. If they no longer get the attention they are seeking by acting out, they will be less likely to tantrum.
- Keep your cool: Frustration is contageous. If you have a calm, quiet quality to your voice, it will help your child to calm down. Make sure your body language and facial expressions are cool rather than angry. This needs practice, but can get easier over time. Take some deep breaths, and get ear plugs if you have to :)
- Praise your child for calming down: Once the tantrum is over, feel free to praise your child for calming down and being quiet. Maybe you can offer other choices (games, another activity) at this time. If they are not fully calm, this may escalate the behavior again and put them back into tantrum mode.
What NOT to DO
- Do not give them the item that started the tantrum: This would make a tantrum VERY LIKELY to occur again. Throw big tantrum = get exactly what I want. If you only give in every once in a while, this is possibly the WORST move.
- Don’t make eye contact while they are engaging in crying/whining, lying on the floor, or hitting. Keep an eye on your child but remain calm and go about your activities until the tantrum stops. Even if your child is kicking you and hitting you, ignore them as much as possible. You can address hitting and kicking when they are calm, but not in the middle of a tantrum.
- Don’t try to reason or talk with them: This usually will just remind them that they are angry, frustrated, and upset. You can talk and reason with them when they are calm, or at some other time. But when they are already upset, talking with them may just fuel the fire of frustration (for you both).
The child in this example is having the tantrum because they 1) want the cookies 2) Want attention from you. If you give the child either of these 2 things, the tantrums will likely continue in the future. If you eventually cave and give the cookies, they will learn that they simply need to throw a massive tantrum and they will get what they want. If they get a lot of attention from you (“I said no!” “go sit down”, looking at them, attending to them) they will learn that you will attend to them and pay them lots of attention if they tantrum.
Spanking is not the best way to teach your child good behavior. Many people think a time out may be in order for many tantrums. These are both punishments for bad behavior, when rewarding good behavior is much more effective and healthy for your child.
Give yourself a pat on the back for learning more about how to deal with tantrums. Its not easy, but with some hard work you can make them less likely to occur.