Why do temper tantrums happen at these ages?
Do older kids ever have tantrums?
What can parents do in the middle of a meltdown?
- Stay cool. Acknowledge the child's emotions (frustrated, bored, tired) without a long discussion and say something like "Tell me in your own words what's bothering you, and let's try to work it out" or "I know you're frustrated and want to leave, but I would like for you to wait a few more minutes." This sounds overly simple, but it's important to let the child know you're willing to work this out reasonably, what your expectation is, and you want them to do. For young kids, always have some form of distraction available to get them off the tantrum track. If the child calms down when you request it, provide the child a treat that may be a surprise, like a toy in your pocket or purse that he didn't know you brought along.
- Step two is hard, but don't reward the tantrum with a lot of attention beyond the matter-of-fact approach in step one. Obviously, you don't want the child to learn that this is a good way to impress you. Scolding or shouting back simply won't work, although you may feel like having a tantrum yourself. Remember, parents are models of appropriate behavior.
- Third, sometimes you simply have to leave. If the mayhem started because she wants something in a store and you've said "no," ignore the tantrum completely. Prepare to be embarrassed; it's worth it—giving in validates the behavior. Realize that you can't always persevere, and that's OK.
How can a tantrum be avoided?
Tantrums are a sign of frustration that a child can't do something comfortably. Know what your child's tolerance level is and try not to push him beyond what he's capable of doing. Tolerance levels vary; he may be able to handle a situation one day and not the next. Try to identify the situations that trigger tantrums and change them.
Remember to reward good behavior: "You were so good today when we had to stand in line at the post office." Think about whether your child may be acting up because he's not getting enough attention; even negative attention is better than none.
Give the child some control over small decisions, so that she can feel she can make a choice. Offer choices such as "Do you want us to read your book before you put your pajamas on or after?"
Give the child a warning before the end of an activity, which gives him a chance to readjust.
After everyone has calmed down and things are back to normal, be sure to share a hug.
If tantrums are more frequent than about once a week and don't lessen as the child grows older, you may want to consider seeking professional advice.
Rimm, Sylvia (1996) Dr. Sylvia Rimm's Smart Parenting: How to Raise a Happy, Achieving Child, Crown Publishing.
Peters, Ruth (1999) It's Never Too Soon To Discipline. St, Martin's Press.
Phelan, Thomas (2003) 1,2,3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. Parentmagic, Inc.
Phelan, Thomas (1998) Surviving Your Adolescents. Parentmagic, Inc.
Wolf, Anthony (2002) Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager, Revised and Updated, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
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The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at www.AboutOurKids.org.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.