When your child throws a tantrum, it is easy to get frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, and embarrassed, especially if the tantrum occurs in public. Unfortunately, the occasional tantrum cannot be avoided; they happen to every parent. But while your child is in the throes of a fit, try to remember these tips.
1. Tantrums are normal. The first thing to remember when your child has a tantrum is that it is normal. Tantrums are a normal way for kids to express their frustration when they may not be able to communicate their feelings appropriately. While this fact doesn’t make the tantrum any easier to deal with, it does help to know that, developmentally, this is a normal stage.
2. Do not engage. During a tantrum, the temptation can be to lecture, yell, or reason with the child. They cannot hear you or comprehend reason when they are in the middle of a tantrum. The best thing to do is to wait it out. If you do feel the need to discuss the situation with the child, wait until later when they are calm and ready to listen.
3. Leave the scene. At home, when your child starts to throw a tantrum, make sure they are safe first, and then leave the area/room. Typically, if the child doesn’t have an audience to get a reaction from, the tantrum will cease. If you are not comfortable leaving your child alone, get busy doing other things and pretend to ignore them while still in the same area/room.
If your child has a tantrum in public, take them to the bathroom or take them to your car to calm down. If the tantrum continues and they are unable to calm down, buckle them safely in their car seat and then drive home.
4. Consider triggers. Think about what triggered your child to get so upset in the first place. How can frustrating situations be avoided in the future? Of course, not all tantrums can be avoided, but certain triggers can be removed. When armed with this information, you can be prepared to use distraction to lessen or avoid a future tantrum.
5. Don’t give in, except once in awhile. Giving into a tantrum will do nothing but encourage future tantrums. If your child is throwing a tantrum because they want to eat a cookie before dinner, do not give them the cookie. It is also not a good idea to use bribes to stop a tantrum. Responses like, “If you stop crying, I will buy you a toy,” rewards the child for their tantrum. However, if your child is in the middle of a tantrum and listening to the same song over and over again on the car ride home helps calm them down, this may be an exception you can live with.
6. Remember, you are not alone. Although it might feel like you are alone while your child has a fit at the grocery store, we have all been there. It is likely your child will have a tantrum in public at some point - and it will be embarrassing and inconvenient - but it is generally unavoidable. Remind yourself again that it is normal for kids to have tantrums, leave the store if needed, and try to laugh about it later.
7. Use distraction, humor, and hugs. During a tantrum, kids are not able to listen to reason, but that doesn’t mean parents can’t try to wrap up the crying quickly. Try using a distraction like, “Where is the ball?” or “Do you want to read a book?” Make a silly face to lighten the mood or if appropriate, turn on some music and begin a silly dance. For some kids, a tight hug helps them to calm down when they are upset. Trying to help your child move past the tantrum can teach them methods for calming themselves down in the future. The situation that caused the tantrum can be discussed later, if needed.
8. Don’t doubt yourself. One time I had to deal with a particularly horrible tantrum from my daughter and I began to blame myself: “What am I doing wrong? I am a terrible mom!” After expressing these thoughts to a friend, she reminded me that I am not a bad mother, and I was just having a bad day. It happens to all of us. Remain confident in your parenting skills and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. After all, tantrums happen to all parents.
The next time your child has a terrible tantrum, try to stop and remember these tips. Eventually, the tantrums will end and your child will grow and learn to communicate more effectively.
Sarah is a wife and a mother of six children, including triplets.
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