How to Handle a Temper Tantrum and How to Prevent Them
No one likes a temper tantrum!
Temper tantrums can be very difficult for parents and any caregivers to deal with. When your child is angry, you may feel angry too! Or you may wonder if you can (or even should) comfort them when they have a tantrum. Believe it or not, there are tried and tested ways on how to handle a temper tantrum and how to prevent them.
Even though they are unpleasant, temper tantrums are a typical and unavoidable part of child development. So how can you deal with your child’s tantrums? And can they be prevented? Learn more about how to deal with your child’s temper tantrums, and some tips to hopefully have fewer outbursts in the future.
Remember that temper tantrums can have a variety of causes, and sometimes these methods of dealing with them won’t be as effective. It’s important to think about the setting and cause of the tantrum. If children deal with sensory differences, there may be certain stimuli that cause them to become upset, and there may be different ways that help to calm them. Be sure to speak with your child’s healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
How to deal with a temper tantrum
You know the situation: You may tell your child they can’t have another treat, or that they can’t go to the park right now. Suddenly they’re crying, yelling, and possibly stomping their feet. In an instant, they’re in the middle of a temper tantrum.
What do you do next? The answer isn’t always straightforward, and often it depends on the situation and setting. Here are some tips to handle temper tantrums, so your child will be able to calm down.
Tip #1: Stay calm. This may be harder than it sounds! After all, if your child is yelling at you, it may feel natural to raise your voice as well. But if you get angry too, children may try to copy your behavior, and think that yelling is the right thing to do. They may also feel a need to be louder than you. So, in some situations, the best thing to do may be to remain calm and not react loudly to your child’s temper tantrum.
Tip #2: Distract your child. Tantrums are usually short outbursts caused by the current situation a child is in. Therefore, it may help to take them out of the situation. Some examples of a distraction may be making a funny face, moving them into another room, or starting a new activity, like reading a book.
Tip #3: Offer to help your child. This can especially help if your child is upset because they can’t figure out how to do something or don’t want to do something. For example, if you asked your child to clean up their toys and they become upset, they may be confused by what you’re asking or why they need to do that. You can offer to help your child by saying something like, “Here’s how you pick up your toys! Can you help me?”
Tip #4: Wait until your child calms down to discuss what happened. Don’t try to talk/ask questions or rationalize with your child during the tantrum. While children may not be able to have long discussions at their young age, once they calm down you can briefly talk about why they were upset. This can help them develop ways to communicate their feelings, which helps with ending temper tantrums.
How to prevent a temper tantrum
While most children will have temper tantrums at some point, but there are some things that can be done to help prevent them from happening or getting worse. Try out these tips!
- Meet your child’s basic needs: Basic needs include making sure children have enough to eat, drink, are getting enough sleep, and are feeling safe and comfortable. Hunger and tiredness especially can cause tantrums or make them worse. Make sure your child has been able to eat regularly throughout the day and is getting sleep and taking naps.
- Have a routine: Routines can also help with meeting basic needs! It can also help to reduce anxiety or resistance, because your child knows what to expect. A routine includes consistent nap times and bed times, as well as doing similar tasks in the morning and evening.
- Give them praise: It’s important to show your child lots of love and attention at this age! Tell them when you’re proud of them, or when they’ve done a good job. Give them hugs and show them you love them. Feeling safe and loved helps with basic needs.
- Make change sound exciting or interesting: Sometimes children may not want to do something just because it doesn’t sound fun, which can cause a tantrum. Try asking them to do something in an upbeat tone, making it sound more exciting. You can also help them understand how doing one thing leads to the desired outcome. So for example, if your child doesn’t want to put on their shoes, you can say, “If you put on your shoes, we’ll get to go outside!”
- Let your child choose (when appropriate!). Sometimes children throw tantrums because they feel like they are not allowed to make choices or have any control. This feeling can become stronger if parents are consistently saying no to them. When possible, give your child a choice. This can be done more easily by giving them two options, and letting them choose. For example, ask:
- “Would you like to eat grapes or berries?”
- “Would you like to read a book or play with your blocks?”
- “Would you like to go to the park or play on the playground?”
- Tell your child about upcoming transitions: Transitions can be big or small. For example, a transition can be leaving a desired place (like a playground or home), or it can be something bigger, like welcoming a new sibling or moving to a new house. No matter the size of the transition, it’s best to prepare your child for it. Give them notice by saying things like “We’re going to the park today!”; “We’re leaving in a few minutes for the park!”; “Let’s go to the park!” Try to make the transition as exciting and positive as possible. Focus on the good that could come out of the transition, especially for bigger transitions. If your child is able, talk about any concerns they may have.
- Avoid situations that bring on tantrums: Easier said than done, right? Sometimes, you have no idea what is going to start a tantrum. But perhaps your child often gets upset when you go down the candy aisle at the grocery store because they want candy. If possible, avoid this aisle when you are with them (unless you plan on getting candy!). The same is true if your child deals with any sensory differences. There may be certain settings, situations or other stimuli that are upsetting to them. If possible, avoid or lessen exposure to things that you know will be upsetting.
Temper tantrums are natural, and they will happen during early childhood. But children can also learn a lot about communicating how they’re feeling and self-regulation at this time. If you have further questions or concerns, speak to a healthcare provider.