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Dealing with Temper Tantrums

I recently chatted with a mom who was in the midst of dealing with her younger child that wanted something but screamed it at her. She firmly said no, but he continued to scream for the item. Cue temper tantrum.

Why do temper tantrums occur?

There are many reasons kids have temper tantrums! And, when I am speaking of kids having temper tantrums, I am really talking about ages 2 1/2 and up.

One reason is that they feel out of control of the changes in their life. It may not be of that situation, but of life in general. If the child has gone through a lot of moves, parents are getting divorced, a death in the family, or even a birth of a sibling, temper tantrums can flare up.

Another reason is lack of sleep. Have you changed the child’s sleep schedule lately? Allowed them to stay up late to see visiting relatives or recently been on vacation where sleep was lacking? This can also contribute to temper tantrums.

Sugar and dietary issues. I like to link this all into sleep as well, because if a child’s diet isn’t well balanced, they will not sleep well. I know that my children have to have a very well balanced diet otherwise they are constipated. And, if they are constipated, they don’t sleep! For some children, food dyes may cause sensitivity. Dehydration may also be a big factor in tantrums as well, so make sure that you always have water available to your child. We all get cranky when we are thirsty.

How to handle temper tantrums

Handling temper tantrums is not easy. It takes a cool head, even when everyone’s tempers are flared. I started babysitting when I was 11 (which means I have 29 years of kid experience!) and have dealt with melt downs and breakdowns for a long time. I have dealt with tantrums of customers when I worked at Target, and then, practiced this on my own kids.

A favorite quote from “The Gambler” that is so relevant to tantrums “Know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to run”. That’s almost my mantra with tantrums.

Sometimes, you can hold your child when they start the tantrum and quiet them down. This doesn’t always work, but sometimes the soothing touch can calm a child. Letting them know that you are there with them may work. It’s a good step, but may not work.

Knowing when to fold them-If you are out in public, such as a play place, and your child starts a tantrum, you give a warning or two that you will leave. If your child does not calm down as you ask, you leave. Do not continue to bargain with the child. Do not offer treats, bargain or bribe them. This can be really hard if you just paid admission, or if you want to sit down with a friend you haven’t seen for a while. If you do bribe your child, it will become a learned behavior that bribery will work.

When you get home, if your child is still having their tantrum, put them in a safe spot, and walk away. Do not continue to engage with them. This can be hard. Often the child will be cycling, as I call it. They may be repeating the phrase that you last told them “I will be good, I will be good” but they are screaming it still at you. Quietly check on your child, but try not to make eye contact until they have calmed down.

The running part, well, that really doesn’t happen. Unless you are in a crowded place and feeling embarrassed. And, we have all been there with a screaming child. I had to leave TopGolf once with a child who decided not to listen. I missed out on TopGolf, and so did the child. The behavior did not occur again.

How long does a temper tantrum last

It all is dependent on how determined your child is. I have had a child do a fifteen minute one and then walk downstairs and be fine, and I have had another child go on for two hours. I like to think that this determination will make them a stronger individual later in life. Maybe that is a positive side of temper tantrums.

Getting others on board

Making sure that other people in the child’s life are on board with the same behavior strategy is very important. This could be at school, grandparents, or any other caregiver. It is very easy to ply a child with treats to bribe them into the behavior you want for the minute you want them to do it, but a treat is not always necessary or a good idea. It also creates a belief system for the child that they expect a reward for every good behavior.

Set up a safe space for a child who throws tantrums. This place should be quiet, away from others, but a place that they still can be watched. I am not saying a closet or padded room like some schools have ended up doing in the past. Children who are throwing tantrums want attention, and really they need to be calm. I recommend an open dialogue for all caregivers on what is going on with the child so that expectations can be set so the child knows what to do with whomever he is with.

Preventative measures

Giving a child good attention is a great way to preemptively strike down tantrums. Other than the reasons above of why children throw tantrums, children often act out because they want attention. If they are not getting attention for behaving well, then they will misbehave to get attention.

I encourage parents and caregivers to make sure they are spending positive, quality time with their children to make sure that the child feels included. This is time away from schoolwork, housework and anything else that the child may need correction. Doing an activity that the child excels at is a great confidence booster and helps morale for the child and helps fill the craving of attention seeking behaviors. This may also reduce the temper tantrums.

When age do temper tantrums end?

Well, I can’t really answer that one. When I was working at Target I had customers throw temper tantrums and I didn’t happen to ask their age. And, I had a staff member throw one too. I think when we get to be older, some of us are able to curtail our feelings into a healthier means. And, that is really what we want our children to do with the temper tantrums.

What is the end goal for parents with temper tantrums?

The end goal for parents should be to get your child to express their frustration, anger, sadness or whatever feeling they are having in a less destructive or combative way. We should explain, when the child is calm, that these feelings are natural and we all have them, but we need to explain these feelings to others using our words. And, that sometimes things won’t work out like we want them to. For instance, the child might want ice cream for dinner but that won’t happen. So, instead of screaming for an hour and a half that they want ice cream, they can say it twice and then understand that maybe they can have it for dessert if they eat their dinner. Perhaps there will be compromise.

I also have taught my kids that if they speak to me (or others) disrespectfully when airing their frustrations, it is less likely I will want to do what they want me to do. This is self control, and we try to work on this a lot. This can be very hard when the child is tired, hot, cold, thirsty or feeling out of control. So, it is very important to make sure as a parent that we set up a good structure for them so that they can be successful.

Check out our homeschooling posts for other great parenting information!

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