Young children may have neither the language to appropriately communicate what is upsetting them nor the skills to manage their anger. This can result in temper tantrums. Tantrums are a typical aspect of child development. Some tantrums are caused by frustration; others to gain attention.
“Catch” your child being good. If children consistently receive appropriate amounts of positive attention and praise, they are less likely to seek out negative attention. Offer undivided attention for at least 10 minutes each day. Show nurturing through smiles, hugs and eye contact.
When your child is calm, teach how to ask for what is wanted in an appropriate way. Validate anger, and teach/model ways to calm down, such as taking a deep breath, counting to ten, squeezing a safe item or taking a break.
Notice what consistently sets off your child. Do tantrums happen during transition times, or when your child has to share? Are they triggered when the child is over-stimulated, perhaps by large groups or too much screen time? Stay alert to these occasions and intervene before the meltdown. Notice the pre-tantrum cues (facial expression, changes in body language) and step in as soon as you notice them. Tantrums can be triggered by hunger or exhaustion, so keep snacks handy and maintain a consistent schedule.
Give choices throughout the day to help children feel a level of control such as “Do you want to wear your blue shirt or your white shirt?” or “Do you want to brush your teeth before we read or after?”
Give children a warning when they will be transitioning to a new activity. For example, set an alarm on your phone and say “when my alarm goes off, we are shutting the television and going upstairs to put on our pajamas”
Tantrums caused by frustration need empathy and support. The surge of emotion can frighten children and make them feel out of control. Sit close to them. Let them know that everything will be okay.
If the child is throwing a tantrum to get your attention, ignore it in an attempt to extinguish it. Explain that you will not pay attention to them while they are having a tantrum and when they calm down, you can talk. While monitoring safety, look away from the child. Engage in another activity. Eventually they will learn that the tantrum will get them nowhere.
Keep a calm voice. Yelling will only make the tantrum worse. If you lose patience, walk away and model a coping skill for your child. When children lose control, they need to be able to count on their caregiver to remain in control.
After The Tantrum
Hold your child close. Acknowledge the anger, and explain the difference between feelings and behaviors. “You were angry because your brother wasn’t sharing the toy. It’s okay to be angry, but it is not okay to hit. Next time when you’re angry, take a deep breath and then ask for help.” Let the children learn that they will get better results by expressing themselves rather than by having a tantrum.
Graziella Simonetti is a Parent Educator for EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute and works as an Early Childhood Social Worker for the New York City Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP Credentialed Parenting Educator. Simonetti is a former kindergarten teacher. Learn more at www.eacinc.org/long-island-parenting-institute.