SIMPLY kc Magazine – March 2012 issue


PARENTING: by Stacey Hatton

Do you have a screamer, floor writher, kicker, stomper, or a breath holder?  Or are you really lucky and have a child who can throw a tantrum better than Paris Hilton or the cast of Jersey Shore?  No doubt these episodes are challenging, but the facts are they are a prime time to educate your head-spinning youth on how to behave in public.  And the earlier you get your child to understand what acceptable behavior is, the better off the teen years will be!


Sometime during the second year of life, tots decide whether or not Mom and Dad’s rules are rigid.  They test boundaries and life gets louder and more frustrating for the entire family.  Boys and girls are equal in their frequency and levels of tantrums, and there is no clear cut off for when they will cease.  Depending on gene pool and behavior modification on the parents’ part, your children could have occasional or habitual tantrums!  Young children don’t have the equivalent emotional control that (most) adults have, so kiddos display their frustrations, lack of verbal communication skills, and desire for independence via tantrums.


The best way to avoid temper tantrums is to spot one coming and head it off.  Sometimes they catch you off guard, but typically there are signs a meltdown is about to make a presence.  Often if the child feels he isn’t getting enough attention, he will try various tricks.  After all, why is it every time an urgent phone call comes in your perfectly behaved child will scream for all food groups and every item in the house which is too tall to reach? Distraction is an effective tool for moments like this.  Pull out those reams of paper and crayons, or a handful of pipe cleaners to make into fun creations. Take their focus off of you and keep refocusing it on something else before they melt.  It takes practice on the parent’s part, but it is an effective skill to master. Another way to prevent tantrums is to give the child control over small things.  Love and Logic is a parenting model developed by Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline, M.D. which recommends offering choices. “Do you want to brush your hair first or brush your teeth?”  Does it really matter which gets done first?  No.  But the child will feel as if their opinion matters. Also, knowing the limits of your child is important to preventing tantrums.  If your child has missed their nap for the last three days, they are hungry and you need to go grocery shopping for the entire week, odds are your child is going to flip out during this trip.


Staying calm and collected when your child is heaving toys off store shelves is difficult – but essential.  “Having enough self-control for both of you,” says The Nemours Foundation, is the number one thing a parent must do during the tantrum.  Two tantrums are not going to help, and that behavior is telling the child yelling is appropriate. Ignoring tantrums is suitable at times, if your child is in no harm to himself or others; but keep him in sight.  “If a safety issue is involved and a toddler repeats the forbidden behavior after being told to stop, use a time-out or hold the child firmly for several minutes. Kids must understand you are inflexible on safety issues,” states Nemours. “Time-outs” are for more stubborn tantrums.  Place the child in the pre-designated area.  He should stay seated in the spot for the amount of minutes per year of age of the child. (i.e. 2 minutes for a 2 year old)  After he has calmed down, the adult explains why he was placed in time-out and has him apologize for his actions.  After a hug, he may get up from the time-out location. Grade–schoolers can be sent to their rooms to calm down from a tantrum.  No time limits are necessary, but they shouldn’t leave their room until they have calmed down.  This lets them practice their coping skills.  Remember: consistency with house rules for all age groups is crucial.

Older Children Tantrum Tools

Here are a few tips for youth to help them channel their anger in a healthy manner:

  • Walk away from conflict This can allow the child to refocus and calm down, without elevating their emotions.
  • Label emotions – Teaching your children to express their anger by using the words “I’m mad because…” is an effective model.  It helps get their anger out and aids the parent in correctly understanding why the child is mad.  Make sure to tell the child you are glad they shared with you.
  • Let anger out safely – Ripping up old magazines, or newspapers.  If you have an artistic child, turning on favorite music and either drawing or writing about what is bothering them can be cathartic.
  • Increase physical activity – Children who have “hot” tempers might benefit from increasing their physical play.  Outside play with friends, team sports, or anything to get them moving and releasing endorphins is a great stress reliever.

Consult Medical Provider if: (Nemours Foundation)

  • Tantrums increase in frequency, intensity, or duration.
  • Your child frequently hurts himself or herself or others.
  • Your child is destructive.
  • Your child displays mood disorders such as negativity, low self-esteem, or extreme dependence.

Stacey Hatton is a pediatric nurse, mother of two and freelance writer.  You can find her humor blog at http://nursemommylaughs.com.

©Hatton, 2012.  All rights reserved.


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