How to Deal with a Temper Tantrum

Parenting is an ever-evolving, improvisational experience. Parents need to know how to handle myriad situations, often without any advanced warning. Discipline and temper tantrums are a couple of such situations that need to be addressed immediately and effectively. The two do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Effective discipline does not have to result in a temper tantrum, but a tantrum does need to be accompanied by some form of disciplinary action so that it is learned that temper tantrums are unacceptable.

When experiencing a temper tantrum, it is imperative that the parent acts accordingly. The physics of parenting teach that for every action there should be an opposite and equal reaction. A tantrum thrown by a child, whether or not out in public or within the comfortable confines of the home, must be addressed.

The keys to effectively dealing with a temper tantrum are to stay calm, show consistency and integrity with your expectations, communicate with your child about the reasons for the tantrum, remove the child from the area/audience, pick your battles, plan distractions, and teach your child that the word no needs to be understood.

Staying calm may not always be the easiest thing to do, especially when you have a child that is spinning out of control. The key, however, is to do just that and speak calmly and rationally to the child, not to the behavioural concerns. The more calm that you as the adult in the situation can remain, the less likely the tantrum is to escalate. The child needs to be able to return to a normal state, and the last thing that they need to see is their parent losing their cool. This calm reaction should be consistent.

Consistency is another method of effectively disciplining a tantrum. The way in which the parent handles the tantrum should be the same regardless if they are alone at home, out with friends and family, or in a public forum. The child must realize that there is a certain way to behave, and it should always be the same.

Being consistent between both parents or caregivers is also important. The child should never feel as though they are able to manipulate one parent. There can never be compromise on this facet. Parents, even when separated, must discipline in the same manner, or else the child will receive conflicting signals, and the behaviours may become rather troublesome.

Parents have to display integrity. The child should know that when the parent says something, that they are going to follow through with it, no matter the ramifications. Do not make idle threats, children will see right through them with relative ease.

When a child is in the midst of throwing a temper tantrum, try and calmly communicate with the child. Lower yourself to their level, look them in the eye, and find out what the reason is behind the tantrum. Children do not toss fits for no reason. The reason may be as simple as hunger, fatigue, or boredom.

Either way, the child needs to know that they are a part of your life, and that they need to fit in to the family unit as an active, participating team member. Encourage your child to use words to clarify what is causing their discomfort, as this may help them to see the issue more clearly.

Removing the child from the area of the tantrum is also crucial, especially if there is an audience. The child does not need to be witnessed by passersby or by their siblings and friends in this heightened state of distress. A tantrum needs to be alone, with nothing feeding the fire. The child may also be able to calm down quicker once they are removed from the scene of the sanity crime. This also serves as a time out, which is the first part of the discipline required for such actions.

Picking your battles may also come into play when a child is having a temper tantrum. Some battles may not be worth winning, but the child should always suffer some form of consequence for inappropriate behaviours. Giving in is never an option, but sometimes a compromise is in order. You cannot always win some battles, so for those instances it may behoove you to find a common ground between the two of you.

Planning ahead is always a good method for helping to combat potential tantrums. If your child has a proclivity towards throwing tantrums, be wise when you are taking your child out in public. Stressful situations can often lead to rash behaviours, and this is something to avoid. Following established routines as best as possible can help in this regard. Keep naps at or around the same time if at all possible. The same goes for snacks and meals. 

Have a distraction at the ready for your child if you are going to be longer than anticipated. This may include a snack or a favourite toy to occupy their minds. Allow them to see items off of the shelves in the stores that you are in so that they do not feel as though they are not being included.

Most importantly, keep open the lines of communication with your child. They need to know that you are there for them when needed. No means no, and the quicker that your child learns this the better. Each tantrum needs to be met swiftly with an appropriate discipline. Children need to know that you love them enough to punish them when warranted. You do not have to be popular with them all the time, nor do you have to be their friend. The best thing you can do for your child is to be their parent.