How To Handle Your Child's Temper Tantrums
Your little princess is throwing a temper tantrum. What would you do? Do you know how to deal with your child's temper tantrum? Read on for tips from a parenting expert.
By Aparna Samuel Balasundaram
It was supposed to be a fun outing for 5-year-old Arav and his parents. They were at a mall to spend the evening. And then, Arav spotted the toy store. As he passed the tempting store front, he tried to pull his mother into the store. She tried to hold him back saying they could come back later. But, Arav began pleading and whining. This soon escalated to weeping, shouting, and finally, Arav threw himself to the ground. A full-blown, classic temper tantrum was on display!
Arav’s parents looked as if they wanted to disappear. People walked by looking at them – some disapprovingly and some with pity. A few moments later, Arav's parents did what most parents usually do – gave in! They hustled Arav into the toy store. Round one to Arav!
What Arav’s parents unwittingly taught him was that, if he wanted something, all he needed to do was shout, scream and cry. Eventually, they would listen to him and give in!
So the question, what should you as parents do differently to deal effectively with your child's temper tantrum?
How to deal with temper tantrums
Step 1: Understand the psychology behind your child’s temper tantrum
Remember, anger, like any other emotion, is normal and part of human experience. But your goal should be to teach your child how to manage his anger in a safe way.
A child’s anger is usually a defence against a deep sense of hurt, frustration, shame, jealousy or rejection. For example, a child refuses to share his toys with his sibling. However, when parents force him to share, he feels hurt and frustrated because he thinks he is being treated in an unfair manner.
Step 2: Identify the different ways in which your child expresses her anger
As you learn to manage your child’s anger better, you should identify the different ways in which your child expresses her anger.
Children show their anger in two ways – externally or internally. Those who show anger externally turn into ‘Exploders’, as in the case of Arav. They indulge in screaming, hitting, throwing things or biting. Children who express anger internally, become ‘Stuffers’. They cry, hold their breath or clench their fists and teeth while simmering with anger. Depending on your child’s personality or situation, she might show both behaviours. For example, at school she might express anger internally – but at home, she could explode. You can recognise these behaviours in your child.
Step 3: Keep your cool
Impossible as it sounds, the starting point for you to effectively discipline your child is to remain calm. What this means is that, while trying to respond to your child’s tantrum, you should be aware of your own emotional state. Are you getting angry, frustrated or upset? Responding to your child's tantrum from a negative emotional state will result in raised noise levels, hurt feelings and fill you with sense of guilt. Remember, you are the role model!
So, your response should be a loving one. Connect with your child by making eye contact, hold or hug him and acknowledge his anger by saying “I know you are angry and upset.” This makes him feel heard. By showing compassion, when your child is struggling with his emotions, you strengthen the bond of love and understanding. In fact, once you connect with the feelings underlying the anger, you may sense some vulnerability or even tears.
Step 4: Applying the STOP sign
Now, to apply a strategy to deal with your child’s temper tantrum! Sit down to be at the same level as your toddler, make eye contact and, using a calm but firm tone of voice, tell her to stop. Tell her to close her eyes and imagine a STOP sign in her mind. This stop sign acts as a symbolic visual that she has to stop and break the flow of negative emotion. If your child is older, help her label her feelings. You could say something like, “Radha, you're getting upset. Mummy (or Daddy) is here to help you. We can make this better. Let us first stop and calm down. Take a deep breath or count to ten.” This often distracts the child and redirects her disruptive flow of emotions to respond to your request.
Step 5: What to do if your child doesn't stop
When your child doesn't respond to your request to stop, you may find yourself getting frustrated or angry. Fight it. Take a ‘Parental Timeout’ at this time. What you can say is, “I love you and I want to hear what you have to say, but I am not going to listen to your angry voice any more. I cannot understand you when you shout and scream. I am going to my bedroom and I will wait for you there. When you are done shouting, come and talk to me. I am waiting for you there.”
It’s important to remember this should not come across as your ‘great escape’! Walking away in disgust or anger will send the message that you don’t care for your child’s feelings. So, be conscious of your body language and tone as you walk away.
It may be difficult in the beginning as the shouting and whining might get louder. But, trust us. Once your child understands that you are serious – she will reach out to you. And, as you see her coming towards you – hesitantly perhaps – you should respond positively. Welcome her with a big smile, open arms and a tight hug.
Children younger than three sometimes just get into an anger rut. The solution for this is simple. You just need to pick them up gently, take them to another place and distract them.
Parents, remember that changing parenting habits and the behaviour of your child takes time. So, be patient with yourself and your child. More importantly, always keep in mind that you have to use your love for your child as the basis for discipline – not your anger, frustration, embarrassment or a need for control!
So, starting today, make time to better understand your child’s anger. And, practise these tips to make sure your child doesn’t throw a temper tantrum ever again. Here’s to bringing back the Joy to Parenting!
About the author:
Written by Aparna Balasundaram on 21 December 2016; updated on 25 September 2019
Aparna Samuel Balasundaram is the co-founder of Life Skills Expert that enables parents to raise happy, confident and successful children. www.lifeskillsexpert.com
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