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Dealing with Tantrums


Oh, the dreaded temper tantrums. They can be stressful for both you and your child, and trying not to have a meltdown can take its toll on you if you let it. The trick is remaining calm when your child is screaming his head off. It's difficult, but it's a part of parenthood and being able to know how to deal with it can mean the difference between a nervous breakdown and a good night's rest. Here are some ways to deal with your kid when he gets cranky:

Remain calm. The worst thing you can do is throw a tantrum yourself. If you start shouting, that will only aggravate him and it can escalate the situation. Make sure you speak calmly, letting him know you're not fazed by his tantrum and it is not an acceptable form of communication.

Get to the root of the tantrum. Temper tantrums are normal in kids ages one to four. But they can also be very different. During ages one to two, the tantrums are usually about a need not being met, be this a need for milk, sleep, or a toy they spot from across the room. Once these needs are addressed, the tantrums should stop. At ages three to four it becomes more of a power struggle and them not getting what they want, rather than need. 

Give them options. When he starts throwing a tantrum, give him options that will put an end to it. For example, you could tell him that if he doesn't stop screaming, he'd have to go to his room or be in a time-out. Time-outs are effective as they remove both the child and yourself from the stress of the situation, letting both parties calm down.

Change the venue or take them out of the situation. Temper tantrums at the grocery are every mother's nightmare. But knowing what sets off his tantrums can help you be prepared. If he's still at it, bringing him to another location can change his behavior and help remove whatever's stressing him out.  


Distract him. If you know a tantrum is inevitable that day, bring a toy or a snack to distract him once he starts getting cranky. If you're at the grocery or a mall, pre-empt a tantrum by asking him to help you choose cereal or count how many items you've gotten. Distraction is key but it must be a preemptive act.

Use incentives. Incentives will work only if you have them planned ahead. For example, if you're going to the grocery or to the mall with him and you need him to be behaved, tell him on the way there that if he's a good boy he can watch his favorite movie when he gets home, or he can get an extra scoop of ice cream for dessert. When he starts misbehaving, remind him of his incentive.

Don't give in. As tempting as it may be, the worst thing you can do is give in to your child while he's in the midst of a tantrum. If you do, it will make him think that it's an acceptable form of communication and he'll do it every time he doesn't get what he wants. This can lead to strained social relationships in the future.

Give him (and yourself) space. If nothing is working and you feel like you're at your wit's end, create some space between you and your child. Remove yourself from the situation (provided you're at home and in safe surroundings) and calm your nerves elsewhere. Make sure your child is away from any dangerous objects too. He's consumed by pure emotion in this state and no amount of reason will fix it. When you're both calm, talk to him and let him know that what he did was wrong.

Give him a hug. A gentle but firm hug can help satiate a temperamental child. Sometimes, the root of his tantrums could just be wanting your attention. Giving him a hug and making him feel loved and safe can help quell the crankies.


Ned Horton/