Mar 12, 2012

Tips On Tantrums By Loren Buckner, LCSW

Tips on Tantrums

Whether the tantrum begins in the supermarket and you feel like everyone's eyes are on you, or you're in the privacy of your home, temper-tantrums are always frustrating, and they're often infuriating. So parents wonder, "What am I supposed to do when my child is having a tantrum?"

I recommend to parents that they stay as calm as possible. Yelling or threatening a child rarely gets them to settle down. When parents lose control, they are matching their child's behavior and this, in all likelihood, will make matters worse.

I've had many parents tell me that they could calm down if only their child wasn't making such an awful scene. Managing this difficult moment, however, rests in parental hands. We can't expect children to be more in control of their emotions than we are of our own.     

So as best as you can, lower your voice and look into your child's eyes. Say things like, "I know you're upset. I know you're mad. You are really really mad. I know. It feels terrible not to get your way. You are so disappointed. I understand." It's always worth it to name and understand your child's feelings. It may not stop this temper-tantrum, but you'll be giving your child tools for later on.

If this doesn't calm things down, though, you'll probably have to stop what you're doing. If you're in a store, consider leaving or at least going out to the car. Parents in a hurry and under pressure to get things done become focused on finishing their errands which, when a child is out of control, isn't going to end well.
It's inconvenient and frustrating to walk away from a grocery cart filled with food. But whenever possible, parenting becomes the priority. You want your child to experience the consequences of the tantrum. He/she goes home, to the car, sits in time out, goes to bed early, misses dessert, or TV time.

Giving in to tantrums pretty much guarantees the likelihood of another one, although all parents are guilty, from time to time, of taking this immediate way out. Remember that parenting is a messy business, sometimes the best you can do is muddle through and do better next time. To be thoughtful, purposeful, and unselfish every time a child asks for something is next to impossible.

Unless your child is too young to understand,
the consequences for the unruly behavior should be more than just not getting what was originally wanted. When the tantrum is over, have an age appropriate conversation about what happened. See if your child can talk about it. What was so upsetting? How can your son or daughter express themselves differently next time? Give him/her the words to say. Practice them. Link the tantrum to why bed-time is earlier or why there's no TV. Hopefully, your child will be sorry. Accept the apology, hug and kiss goodnight. Grudges aren't necessary.

Another point worth mentioning here is that children learn how to manage their feelings by watching how you manage your own. This lesson is learned in everyday life. Three good questions to ask yourself are: How well are you dealing with your own emotions? What is the emotional temperature of your household? Could your child's tantrums be a response to tensions at home?

Finally, remember to reward positive cooperative behavior. Parental praise, affection, and appreciation mean everything to a young child.

5 ParentWise Tantrum Tips:

1. Try not to lose your temper too.
2. Put your child's angry feelings into words.
3. Whenever possible, don't give in to the tantrum.
4. Create age appropriate consequences.
5. Reward cooperative behavior with praise and affection.

Loren Buckner, LCSW author of ParentWise: The Emotional Challenges of Family Life and How To Deal With Them is in private practice as a psychotherapist. Married for over thirty years, and as the parent of two grown children, she adds a uniquely qualified voice to the parenting discussion. She has spoken locally, nationally, and internationally on the emotional challenges of family life.

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