Taming Tantrums, Part 2

A Short Guide To Prevention and Cure
by Laura Elston

cartoon of girl throwing tantrum and dad

Tantrums are frequent occurrences in children, who are still learning to handle their emotions. They also happen en masse in grown-ups who feel frustrated and powerless; then, they’re called riots. Both kinds of outbursts have the same basic cause: emotions that feel bigger than the person’s ability to cope with them calmly.

the silver lining of childhood tantrumsA child who is having a tantrum is the perpetrator of the bad behavior, but she’s also the victim of her emotions. Treat her neither as the perpetrator nor as the victim, since both approaches worsen the trouble. The path of collaboration works best, especially if you can stay calm and keep a sense of humor.

Here are some very practical tips on the prevention and cure of tantrums.

1. Divert

  • Avoid head-butting; go around potential areas of conflict rather than through
  • Notice force-multipliers, such as hunger and fatigue, and take special precautions in these circumstances
  • Be sure the child knows in advance that a tantrum thrown is an object blown: you will not consider any request made in the throes of a hissy fit
  • Remove the child from the situation where possible until order is restored

2. Connect

  • To paraphrase Erica Jong, A tantrum in motion tends to stay in motion; intervene in order to help the child find a way out of his dilemma
  • Stay as close as you safely can, and verbalize his emotions for him
  • Make eye contact so that the child knows you are fully present
  • Forego trying to reason with the child; it’s like trying to argue a runaway train into stopping
  • Help the child express his underlying fear by making it safe for him to cry with you

3. Educate

  • Later, when the two of you are calm and snuggly, explore alternatives to explosions
  • Ensure that the child has enough connection with you in his good moments so that he doesn’t use tantrums as a means to get attention

Taming Tantrums, Part 1 – The Most Surprising Secret

Further reading:

Several very good discussions of tantrum prevention and cure are on the website of Dr. Laura Markham, who offers some example dialogues for various situations. Articles include:
Managing Your Toddler: TANTRUMS!
8 Year Old Tantrums – is this normal?

Writer Lynne Wright offers a wry portrait of the tantrumist family in her Montreal neighbourhood. While not overly sympathetic, it’s a fun read and a good caveat for the laissez-faire.
Don’t make me come ova there with a little helpin’ of whupass, chile!

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