Tantrum behaviors seem to be one of the most common and frustrating behaviors in children. They seem so full of anger and rage that doesn’t seem to make sense. I have no unique idea about why children tantrum or why some children tantrum more than others. But I have had a few years of helping my daughter manage her tantrums.
One thing to consider is how you respond to your child. If you find that you are routinely yelling at your child for every perceived act of misbehavior, you are essentially teaching them that anger is the solution to those issues. Children mimic what you do, and the will yell and scream if you regularly do so. You scream, they scream (we all scream for ICE Cream!).
We all know that screaming doesn’t help, but makes things worse. So what should you do? Try to remain calm and have a consistent reaction to each tantrum.
Our daughter that we adopted from foster care came to us with trauma and emotional baggage. She was seeing two therapists and went to a specialty pre-school for children with trauma, but she still had tantrums. The therapist we were seeing was against “Time Out” and so we did what she calls “Time In” but really it was the same concept. When our daughter would tantrum, we would physically lift her and place her calmly on the stairs. She was only on the stairs in “Time Out or Time In” for as long as it took for her to calm down. Once she was calm, she had to tell us why she was in trouble and either apologize (if she hurt someone) or agree to try to do better. Using this method was much easier than setting a timer or having a hard and fast rule about the length of time she should be in time out.
Today, she is 4 years old, almost 5 and she is either sent to the stairs or her bedroom when she tantrums. She is still only in time-out for as long as it takes her to calm down, but her time to calm down has dramatically improved. She used to tantrum for 20-30 minutes but is now only in Time Out for 3-4 minutes. She still has a hard time communicating why she is in trouble, so we will remind her why she is in trouble and then she has to wait a few minutes and then be able to tell us why she is in trouble. She then will talk about what she could do differently.
This same general concept is what we use when she tantrums in public. We immediately leave the situation if she tantrums. She has learned, over time, that we are serious when we give her two warnings and on the third correction we leave. We have had to leave grocery carts full of groceries and restaurants with boxed up food, at first. But over time, she has learned that in public she is expected to behave or we leave.
The main concept from our experience is to try different strategies and decide what feels right for your style and then be consistent. It has taken us almost 2 years to have our daughters tantrums to the point where we feel they are under control.
Some children are more challenging than what our daughter has been. She has an average IQ and seems to be able to learn from mistakes. Sometimes children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, low IQ, Autism, etc. can throw tantrums and they don’t seem to learn from mistakes. The method we use with our daughter would not likely work in these circumstances. If this is your child, we greatly advise that you seek specific therapeutic help with people who are specialized in what your child experiences.
Parenting is difficult and when you add in trauma, mental illness, or IQ impairments, tantrum behavior is a daily occurrence. Tantrum behaviors don’t have to ruin the day once you feel like you are prepared and know how to respond. There will be times when you, as the parent, may overreact and this is really normal. Be ready to apologize when you have yelled or said something hurtful.
Also, from a trauma-informed care perspective, any child who has experienced trauma in their childhood (abuse, neglect, etc) may be triggered by your response to their tantrum. If they are throwing a fit, and you respond in anger, yelling, or physical punishment, they are going to tantrum worse. This is known therapeutically as “Re-Enactment” where the child is re-enacting negative internal states and they are actually feeling more in control and comforted when there is chaos, yelling, and even physical pain. In order to heal from trauma, the child needs to be in a situation where the adult has self-control and is safe. The child will learn new behaviors as the adult help to create new situations and circumstances. (For more information on Trauma Re-Enactment, see Peter Levine’s work here).
Luckily we have technology advances and we can delve deeper into how the brain works via neurofeedback. Neurofeedback helps therapists understand what needs to be done to help alter behavior that can be problematic. You can call or email us to see if Neurofeedback might be a good fit for your child and help reduce the tantrums that they experience.
Our specialists are great at helping to find individual ways for parents to help children learn new behaviors and succeed. Call us for a free consultation to see if we can help your family! 801-855-7999.