Taming Temper Tantrums

Temper is a weapon that we hold by the blade.
—James Matthew Barrie, novelist

Your child can really blow his top, whether it be at age 2 or 15. What do you do when your child throws a temper tantrum (and maybe even an object)? Besides learning to duck, consider these ideas to keep tantrums from going amok.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Separate the feeling from the behavior. You want your child to feel and express emotions, but you also want your child to learn how to express feelings in appropriate ways.
    • When you get mad, talk about your feelings with your kids. Become a role model for how you express and deal with emotions. Begin by talking about your feelings directed at a source outside of your family, such as the economy, a natural disaster that upsets you, or funding being cut from your child’s school.
    • Help kids not only to name and express emotions, but also how to act on them. For example, if you have a better idea on how your community can move forward with legislation, go to an open council meeting and express your opinion. Bring your kids with you and show them how to act.
    • Teach kids how to solve problems—once they calm down. What can they do to make the situation better? What can they do if there is no option but to accept the situation? Becoming calm and releasing steam is only one part of anger management. Problem solving is another important part.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Expect many temper tantrums during this stage. Young children are learning how it feels to get upset, how to name emotions, and how to express them. Help them learn these valuable skills, but expect them to learn gradually over time.
    • Work on becoming calmer as your child gets more upset. Being a calming presence will help to keep the tantrum from escalating even more.
    • Keep your child safe during a tantrum. Some kids run screaming and can hurt themselves by running into things. Others throw things. Do what you can to keep your child safe. For more ideas, see the Parenting Preschoolers with a Purpose.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Help your child begin to learn the subtle signals of the beginning of a tantrum. Some kids start to make a fist. Others hold their breath. Some begin to pace. If you—and your child—can learn to catch the beginning of a tantrum, you can teach your child how to stop it from going further.
    • Be clear about which ways are and are not acceptable for expressing anger. Use inside, calm voices. Use “I” messages, rather than blaming messages. Funnel the anger energy in a positive way, such as hitting a pillow or running outside until the energy dissipates.
    • Be careful not to teach your child to suppress his or her anger. It’s often easier as a parent to tell kids “don’t do that” rather than encouraging them to name feelings, express them appropriately, and learn how to talk about them. It takes more work to do this, but in the long run, you’ll both be better off.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • The beginning of puberty can trigger tantrums, since kids at this age are often surprised at how intense their feelings are. Be patient. Be compassionate, but listen to what your child has to say. For more ideas, read Parenting Preteens with a Purpose.
    • Talk about the rollercoaster-like effect and intensity of emotions. Your child will feel more understood if or she knows that all kids are experiencing emotional ups and downs.
    • Be clear about appropriate ways to express anger. Door slamming is out. So is name-calling. If your child doesn’t know what to do with all the anger and energy, hand him a vacuum cleaner and have him vacuum while yelling (you might want to get out of the way).
    • Encourage your child to do something athletic to re-direct the energy. Consider doing something physical with her (such as shooting hoops or throwing a ball around), since she may be more likely to open up and talk when doing physical activities.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • By this age, tantrums should be nonexistent. However, some older teens do have trouble with anger management. If this is the case, it may be helpful to find a class or counselor who can help. You don’t want your teen graduating from high school with a hot head.
    • Older teens can become quite angry when life doesn’t go their way. Not making a varsity sports team, an elite choir, or getting into a certain college can set a teenager off. Be patient, but help your teenager express her feelings—once she calms down. Too many teenagers get mad and blame other people, instead of talking about how hurt or disappointed they are.
  • Point out celebrities and newsmakers that behave badly when they get mad. You want to be clear that people who make a difference in this world are the ones who know how to express feelings in respectful, appropriate ways that create positive change. They’re not the ones trashing hotel rooms and running up thousands of dollars in damages.

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