Try to stay calm.
Count to ten and BREATHE. Spanking, yelling, or becoming agitated will likely make matters worse. Remember, your child is learning from you—set a good example. If you remain in control of your emotions, your child will pick up on this. In contrast, your child will also do the same if your reaction is a negative one. They are sponges and are constantly learning, so show them how to be in control.
Try to distract the child or ignore them.
Older children, especially, may throw a tantrum to get attention. Assuming they are not going to hurt themselves, go about your business as usual.
If possible, remove the child from the environment in which he/she is having a tantrum.
If in a public place, this may mean sitting outside with the child for a few minutes. If it continues to escalate, tell the child that they have a choice to either go home or calm down. Make sure to follow through with what you say your going to do. If you say “That’s it, we are going home” and don’t actually do it, you have just lost your credibility. If in school or at home, you may find it useful to use a warning system (such as warning the child up to three times and reminding them of the rules each time). If they fail to comply, then they are given a time out. However, time-outs should not be too long. A good rule of thumb is 1 minute per each year of the child’s age.
You may have to hold a child who is clearly going to hurt themselves or others.
However, make sure to tell the child what is going on by saying, “I will let go when you calm down.” Although you may be at your wits end, reassure your child it will be ok. It’s ok to show affection during these moments, such as hugging your child if they are crying because they want something. Make sure to tell them that you will love them no matter what, but that their behavior has to change. They need to know that you do not approve of their behavior, but that you still love them. Be empathetic but don’t give in.
Avoid trying to talk or reason with a screaming child.
It never works! Talk with the child after he/she has calmed down. Talk about the frustration the child has experienced, be empathetic, and try to help solve the problem if possible. This is a good place to start teaching the child how to ask for things to avoid such situations.
Remember, temper tantrums are common in both boys and girls, especially between the ages of 1-4, and sometimes they can occur up to one or more per week. Although they may occur less frequently, tantrums may continue to surface during the pre-school and school aged years; again, likely for different reasons.
However, if despite these (or other) interventions, the tantrums are increasing in frequency, intensity, or duration, consult your pediatrician. You should also be on the lookout for any injurious behavior toward self or others, changes in personality, or any other “out of the norm” behaviors. When in doubt—get it checked out. It might be the case that your child is exhibiting the signs of a more severe condition that may be contributing to your child’s increasing temper tantrums. Your pediatrician can direct you to a mental health professional who can be of further assistance.
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About Dr. Melissa Fiorito-Grafman:
Dr. Melissa Fiorito-Grafman is a licensed psychologist in the state of New Jersey and New York. She completed her residency training at New York University Langone Medical Center-The Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, which is an accredited program by the American Psychological Association. Thereafter, she completed a two-year fellowship specializing in Pediatric/Adult Neurospychology. Dr. Grafman’s education and training is unique in that it has afforded her the opportunity to serve children, adolescents, young adults, and families at the individual and group therapy level, as well as providing psycho-educational and neuropsychological assessment. Dr. Grafman currently maintains a private practice in Ridgewood and Closter, New Jersey. If you would like to discuss the contents of the articles on this site or have questions about services, you can contact Dr. Melissa Fiorito-Grafman directly at the Center for Neuropsychology & Psychotherapy, LLC in Ridgewood & Closter, New Jersey at (201) 252-2528 or www.neuropsychandtherapy.com
-Berger, K. S. (2001). The developing person through the lifespan: Fifth Edition. New York: Worth Publishers.
-Jongsma, A. E., Peterson, L. M., & McInnis, W. P. (2006). Child psychotherapy homework planner: Second Edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
-http://www.nasponline.org/resources/behavior/tantrums_ho.aspx Robert G. Harrington, Ph.D.; Department of Psychology and Research in Education at the University of Kansas:
-http://ohioline.osu.edu The Ohio State University (see Understanding Children: Temper Tantrums)