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What is the Best Way to Deal with Temper Tantrums?

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Angry little boy looking at puzzles.
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Question: What is the Best Way to Deal with Temper Tantrums?
My four year old throws these embarrassing temper tantrums when he can’t get what he wants. He seems to throw the worst fits in public, especially when we are at a store. He throws himself on the floor and kicks his feet and screams. It’s really embarrassing and I want this behavior to stop now! What’s the best way to deal with temper tantrums like these?
Answer:

Reasons for Temper Tantrums

It’s important to take a look at the reasons your child is throwing temper tantrums. Kids have tantrums for two main reasons. The first is an inability to manage their emotions.

When kids struggle to regulate their emotions they aren’t sure what to do when they feel mad, sad, or frustrated. So, they scream, kick their feet, and throw themselves on the ground as if to say, “Help me, I’m out of control.”

The other main reason kids have tantrums is because they want to control the situation. Their goal is to get their way. These kids are thinking, “If Mom says no when I ask for a toy, I’ll scream until she gives in.”

Prevent Temper Tantrums

One of the best ways to deal with temper tantrums is to try and prevent them. Although not all temper tantrums can be prevented, some of them can. Take a look at when your child is most likely to exhibit temper tantrums. Is it when he is hungry or over tired? If so, plan ahead and don’t schedule tasks that will be difficult for your child unless he’s had a nap and a healthy snack.

Sometimes tantrums result when kids don’t have appropriate expectations. For example, if your son usually gets a toy when he goes to the store with Grandma, he may expect that you’ll buy him a toy as well.

Pre-teaching can be a great way to help kids have realistic expectations. Before you go into the store, explain what he can expect to happen. For example, “We are going to buy some groceries and then we are leaving. We aren’t looking at the toys today and we aren’t buying any toys.”

Also, make sure to establish rules before you go inside. For example, “Walk next to me and keep your hands to yourself.” Tell your child what will happen if he follows the rules and also what will happen if he breaks the rules.

It can also be helpful to give your child a job. This will keep him busy and distracted while he’s in the store. Have him place the items you hand him into the cart or give him items to look for in the store. If you can keep him busy and having fun, he’ll have less time to have a temper tantrum.

Don’t Give In to Stop the Temper Tantrum

It’s essential that you make sure that temper tantrums don’t work. If he throws a fit in the store because he wants you to buy him a toy, don’t buy him one. Giving in might make things easier in the short-term because it will make the tantrum stop, in the long run it will only reinforce to your child that tantrums are a good way to get what he wants.

It is important to teach kids healthy ways to manage their uncomfortable feelings so they know what to do instead of having a tantrum. Teaching kids about feelings can help them learn socially appropriate ways to deal with them. For example, teach your son to say, “I’m mad,” or show him how to take some deep breaths to calm down.

Reward Kids for Managing Feelings Appropriately

It is important that kids receive positive consequences when they are behaving. One of the best positive consequences is positive attention. Praise them for managing their feelings well and point out their good behaviors. For example, “Johnny you did so well in the store today with listening and following directions!”

It is okay to give kids rewards for behaving as well. For example, offer him a sticker if he makes it through the store without crying. If he’s unable to wait until the end of the shopping trip, offer stickers every couple of minutes during the trip if he is behaving. These positive discipline strategies take some more effort up front but can prevent a lot of behavioral issues.

Provide Negative Consequence for Tantrums

Temper tantrums need a negative consequence. Ignoring can be a great strategy to reduce tantrums. Although kids may scream louder or stomp their feet harder at first, if you can ignore them until they stop, it teaches them that this is not a good way to get your attention.

Sometimes a time out is warranted as well. If your child’s behaviors are too disruptive for him to remain in the store, take him to the car for a time out. Then continue your shopping trip when he is calm. Just make sure that you are using appropriate discipline strategies and not punishment.

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