Child having a tantrum

Tantrums can be triggered for different reasons, or for what appears to be no reason at all. If you are reading this article you can probably relate to the following scenarios. Your child is on the floor in the middle of the supermarket, kicking and screaming because you won’t buy them apple juice. They don’t even like apple juice, but it has Peppa Pig on the box. Maybe you wouldn’t let them call the fire truck man on your phone. Or, perhaps the mannequin didn’t talk to them. Kids don’t always understand logic, and when they get worked up it can feel like the end of the world.

It is important to remember that most children between the ages of 1-3 have meltdowns, as it is a busy time for their developing social and emotional skills. At this age their feelings can be overwhelming and difficult to express. As children get a little older these tantrums may continue, but this is usually out of habit or simply to “see what will happen”. Despite tantrums being common, it can be a stressful situation for a parent to deal with. With these 8 strategies you will learn how to stop tantrums, or at the very least make them more manageable:

1. Stay Cool, Calm, and Collected

When your little one is in the midst of a tantrum, it is understandable you may feel stressed. This can be worse if you are in public as eyes watching the situation unfold can make you feel like a failure as a parent. You’re doing just fine. You need to remember, this is normal and all kids do it at some point. This isn’t the time to yell at your child, as a strong reaction could be exactly what they are looking for. Instead, keep your voice quiet and remain calm. If you get worked up too this could lead them to mirror your behavior. Lead by example and don’t fight fire with fire. If you want your child to be calm  then you should also be calm.

2. Understand Why It Happens

The best way to stop tantrums is by trying to prevent them in the first place. You may notice  your child’s behavior is worse at different times. Overstimulated or overtired children are less able to cope, sending their emotions into overdrive. As a parent you would know the effects of sleep deprivation as an adult, and dealing with this is even harder for children. The same can be said for when they are simultaneously hungry and angry. Kids love routine, and sticking to one can have a big impact on those screaming episodes. If your child is tired after daycare, or hungry after swimming lessons, it might not be the best time to drag them to the store. Know what is pushing their buttons and try to eliminate the problem.

3. Hey, Look Over There!

If you begin to notice the signs of an impending tantrum, a distraction could stop the situation from escalating. You know your child and what will work. Once the screaming hits it will likely be too late, but looking for cues of frustration and acting on them might help. Consider taking a snack pack in your bag, offering a favorite toy, or pointing at something excitedly. Sometimes humor may also be effective depending on the temperament of the child. However, try not to laugh at them as they will feel as though you are disregarding their feelings.

4. Don’t be Embarrassed

Although it can be hard, when you are a parent you will learn sooner or later that being embarrassed is not an option. Some kids seem to sense their parents embarrassment in public, and use this as a way to get what they want. A whispered “Shhh Johnny, be good or you will be in big trouble later” is going to be overridden by his desperate need for that chocolate bar. If they know you won’t discipline them when other people are looking, they may try to push the boundaries. Try to stop worrying about what strangers think, and discipline your child just as you would at home. They will quickly learn the same rules apply, regardless of where they are. Consistency is key.

5. Wait For the Big Discussion

Your child’s age will determine whether or not you can have a conversation about their tantrums, and how in depth it can be. If it is possible to talk to them you should always wait for a quieter time. This could be at home where they feel safe. When they are in the middle of a tantrum, they will be so focused on their emotions it will be unlikely anything you say will get through to them. If you can discuss this and you listen to their “feelings”, it will strengthen your relationship. For older children this could be an opportunity to teach them strategies to deal with their emotions.

6. Turn Around…and Breathe!

Sometimes, all you can do is wait it out…and that is OK. Some children will give up the fight if their parent doesn’t react. You should always remove any obstacles which may cause harm, or you may even have to remove the child themselves and take them somewhere private. Safety comes first. If you feel as though you aren’t coping in that moment, don’t forget that your mental health is important too. If it is safe to do so, turning around and waiting will give you a moment to recharge and enable you to take a deep breath and compose yourself.

7. Acknowledge Their Issues

If there is something specific your child is upset about, try not to dismiss it. They want to know you understand them and that you care. Give them opportunities to be independent, and they will likely rise to the challenge. If your child is upset they can’t push the trolley, try giving them the very special job of carrying the bread. Involving them in your tasks may take a bit longer, but it will make for a happier experience.

8. Only Reward Good Behavior

Teach your child that you don’t get a prize for being naughty. Never give in to a tantrum, because this will just lead to more of the same in the future. If you are going to offer a prize for good behavior, wait until you are at home or in the car. For example, if they are lucky enough to score a chocolate for successfully making it through the shopping trip it will be good motivation. Place it in the trolley at the beginning of your shop so they can see it. If they do have a tantrum, place it back on the shelf. For those who are looking for a sugar-free option, kids love collecting stickers to place in a dedicated book! Your could even make your child feel special by allowing them to give the cashier the money, or collecting the receipt.

When you are dealing with a tantrum, it may help you to understand that you are not alone. Your child is not the first to scream in the carpark, and they won’t be the last. Be calm, wait it out and don’t give in! If your child has an underlying cause such as ASD, or tantrums are becoming more frequent or difficult to manage, don’t be afraid to seek help as a specialist may be able to offer some additional strategies.