Sunday, February 20, 2011

Temper Tantrums

'Temper Tampers' as a friend of mine calls them.  I've been meaning to post about this topic for a while now as the issue has come up over and over again with friends, family and now, sadly now my daughter.

It's always a challenging topic too, but I figured I should tackle it today after my daughter had a mini frustration break down. After I pried my car keys from her mouth, she started crying of course, and was so upset you would think the world was ending.

Now, being 9 months old, they are not technically throwing a temper tantrum. They are still learning object permanence at this age, but it is a good time for me to start practicing how to prevent them.

And by the way, to first solve the car key dilemma, I bought her a fabulous set of fake keys at Target, which she just loves.  It's from the brand 'B' and I completely recommend it if you need a good 'real' toy if your child is into grown-up toys like keys, cell phones, etc. They make some pretty real looking alternatives like the ones below. I even had some moms tell me this weekend (after seeing the toy keys in my baby's mouth) that maybe I shouldn't let my baby suck on them since they are dirty. They actually thought they were real car keys!

As I digressed, getting back to Temper Tantrums. I don't think I need to go into a definition here, as EVERYONE knows what a Temper Tantrum is.

In young children, around age 2 (and younger), they still have a hard time communicating and using their words. So when they get frustrated, they throw temper tantrums.

And older kids throw them as well.  As we all have either witnessed in public, or have had our own children throw them. It seems  it is more than just getting frustrated, that they are trying to manipulate something or get what they want when things don't go their way :)

First Steps:

The best first step is to watch for the beginning signs of a tantrum, before your child actually throws one. Asking yourself if your child is hungry, tired, etc.  If you are asking your child to do something they don't like, or taking away a toy or a privilege when they are exhausted, then you may get a full blown tantrum instead.

Look for other beginning signs such as whining. Usually whining means a child is tired- except if they have learned to whine to get what they want and is now a learned behavior. That's when you have a whole other issue on your hands- a whining child is not fun and teaching them to 'use your real voice' can be difficult once they learn that they can get what they want by whining. But, that's a whole other post I will save for another time I'm sure.

When are kids are needing a nap or are hungry, and start getting upset, we have to remember it's not their fault and we can't get mad at them for having a tantrum. Especially when we are keeping them up longer than they should be and need a nap.

So the big question is, what the heck do I do when my child throws a temper tantrum?

Well, I think the answer to that question is not a one word answer unfortunately.  Every child is different, and some may react to one method and one to another.  But from my experiences, here are a few that parents say have worked well (the following will work with all ages, even if your child is limited verbally.):

1) First acknowledge their feeling of frustration, so at least they are being 'heard.'

With babies, you can state their obvious frustrations and then remove the object you don't want them to have and hopefully have a replacement object like my play keys above. "I know you really want to play with my keys, but they are not for playing with, you can play with this toy instead."

Babies are usually getting upset because they can't have something they want- something usually dangerous like your knife at the restaurant, your iPhone, or some electrical outlet.  As long as you practice acknowledging their wants/feelings and then telling them what they can have INSTEAD, they will soon learn.

With older kids, use the Limit Setting techniques I've mentioned before, such as 'I can see how mad you are right now, and that you really want that toy, but today we are not picking out a toy.' This example also reminds me of another tip, I'll call it 1.2)

1.2) To prevent meltdowns when going to the grocery store, Walmart, Toys R Us, or other stimulating store: PREPARE your child before you go and let them know that they will NOT be getting a toy, candy, sugar cereal, etc.  That way, they will know what to expect before they go.  Stating, "Today we are going to Walmart to buy some clothes, and I know they have a lot of fun toys and candy there, but today we will not be buying those things."

2) When they are kicking and throwing themselves on the floor, another technique parents use is drawing.  Tell them to "show me how mad you are, draw me a picture of how you feel." And have them continue to keep showing you through this activity until they calm down.  Sounds corny, but it does work!  Or have them punch a pillow or another physical activity that is safe.

3) Another tip from my favorite book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen is using a 'wish list.' When a child is throwing a tantrum in a store in public (and you are super embarassed), take out a pen and write down everything your child says they want and make a 'wish list.'  Parents say that it helps satisfy the child for the moment, and you have a great list when the holidays or birthdays come up!

4) BUT, what do you do when you are in public and they are screaming and the 'wish list' is just not going to work, you ask? Most moms feel the best option is to leave the store. Walk out with your full grocery cart and take them home.  Again, hopefully you could have looked at preventing a melt-down before it gets to this point, but sometimes they come on so fast it's hard to prevent.

And lastly...

5) Ignoring? We've all heard to ignore tantrums. That giving them attention just fuels them to continue the tantrum behaviors.  There's the argument that, "it's pretty hard to throw a temper tantrum when you don't have an audience."  And if there is no audience, then there is no temper tantrum.

Some parents swear by this technique and when a child throws themselves on the floor and scream and cry, then you tell them matter of factly, that when they are done, you will be in the kitchen.  And walk away, making sure of course that they are safe.

Others think it is better to be near your child to let them know that even when they are upset, that the parent is there for them. I think it depends on your child and what works best for them.

But what happens when you ignore them and your child turns blue? That is one of the times when ignoring them may not be the best answer.  Doctors say that usually these spells are normal, but they are still scary!  I would check with your doctor first to rule out anything medically.  But the best way to stop them from turning blue is to prevent a tantrum from reaching that point by using some of the techniques above.

Hope some of this information helps.  I know there is a lot more that goes into solving tantrums, but this is a good start.  There is no easy answer, but sometimes trying new approaches to an old problem can work wonders.  Let me know what has worked best for you!


  1. [...] I posted about Temper Tantrums the other day, I remembered I forgot to include my ‘Snickers Theory.’ And it definitely [...]