Every parent who has a child over the age of two has dealt with them: Tantrums. Yet, despite their ubiquity, every parent seems to freeze up when it happens to him or her for the first time. Unlike changing a diaper or cutting up grapes, there is no one, single, surefire way to deal with a tantrum. Every tantrum is different, and every child is different.
A tantrum is your child’s way of saying, “I don’t know how to deal with what is happening to me right now!” Here’s a quick way to identify what is happening with your child and how to help her deal in order to diffuse a tantrum:
If your child is throwing a tantrum because he is not getting something that he knows he is not allowed to have, ignore it. Continue your conversation, go fold laundry, turn up the radio in the car, whatever it takes. He knows the rule, he knows a tantrum will not change your answer, so there is really nothing to be done. Make sure he’s safe, but let him scream and thrash around on the floor. He’ll get tired, much faster than you think.
If your child is throwing a tantrum because he simply cannot control his emotions, speak softly. A child who doesn’t know why he is crying needs someone to help him calm down. Obviously, yelling or shouting is only going to stress him (and you) out even more, so do the opposite. Speak in a soft, calm voice, and make simple and calm requests. “I can’t understand you when you’re crying. Can you say that again, softly?” Once he starts to calm, you can identify his emotions for him and help him find a more productive outlet. “You’re angry because Jenny took your toy? That makes sense. Did crying help get the toy back? No? What could we do to get the toy back? Let’s try that instead.”
If your child is throwing a tantrum because she is overwhelmed, remove her from the situation. This might mean leaving a cart full of stuff in the middle of Target, or boxing up your restaurant meal before taking a bite, but if your child is having a meltdown because she’s tired, over-stimulated or otherwise unable to handle her emotions, nothing is going to help. She needs a change of scenery, a chance to “reset” and get a grip. This is when a time-out can work wonders. Set her down someplace safe where she can burn through the tantrum, wait until she calms down, then talk to her about a better way to handle herself. If she successfully navigates the time-out and calms down, she can return to her activity.
If your child is throwing a tantrum because she is deliberately pushing your buttons, flip out. That's right. Do not scream and yell at your child, just act ludicrously hysterical about something else. Pretend to become distraught because the remote control doesn’t work, or because there isn’t enough milk in the house. Be completely over-the-top with it, demonstrating how silly a tantrum looks and how unproductive it is. It will shock your child and give you an opportunity to talk about better, more productive ways to handle your emotions. Plus, it gives you a chance to burn off a little steam.