Tantrums can come in all shapes and sizes – all ages too.  A Tantrum is an external expression of not being happy – not getting your own way.  We are very familiar with the two-year-old tantrum but really any one of any age (including adults) can throw a tantrum – it will just look different.

In younger children a tantrum can be a lack of ability to control their emotions – which is why we often hear mother’s give the excuse “he’s just tired”.  And this is likely to be the truth.  Though we can go easy on our child when we know we have pushed them beyond reason not every tantrum falls into that context.  We need to assess their heart – is it circumstantial or is it a battle of the wills?  If it is circumstantial we still need to help them deal with their emotions and body appropriately.  The real tantrum comes though when their will is crossed.  They don’t want to and they want to let you know it.  Age has no barrier where this is concerned.

When Josh was just one year old I was visiting Melbourne and I saw a sad thing that impacted me and the way I handle tantrums – in a coffee shop a toddler threw a wobbly – he kicked his shoe off and it went flying across the room, landing on a table.  At this stage the mother snapped, walked out of the shop leaving her screaming child inside.  Suddenly the child realised he was alone and the look of sheer panic still makes me pause today.  Surely there had to be a better way.

How to deal with a Tantrum

We are told to ignore our children’s tantrums – to walk away and leave them without an audience.  I decided then and there that I would find a way to deal with the tantrums and yet never put my child in that situation.  At home we can put them in their cot, send them to their room, and they are emotionally safe as well as physically safe – but for some reasons a lot of tantrums are thrown in public.

Josh didn’t throw many tantrums but the one I remember him throwing we were in Coles (as I said – they all happen in public, mostly when we are grocery shopping!)

  • I stopped doing what I was doing and prepared myself to deal with it
  • I knelt down and pulled him on my lap and held him
  • When he started to pull it together I whispered encouragement to him to find his self-control

I didn’t leave him, I didn’t negotiate with him, I didn’t get frustrated (or embarrassed).  Though he was being very unlovable at the time, I showed him that I still loved him, but at the same time he was being inappropriate.  When he calmed down, I got out of that store as quickly as I could (the groceries where no longer the most important thing to me).  Once in the car we talked about his heart – about his selfish heart that just wanted what he wanted.  We talked about what would have been the right response when I had said he couldn’t do whatever it was he was doing.  We went shopping again the next day so he could practice doing the right thing.

When I pulled my children onto my lap – if it was an issue of the will – I would have their back to my front.  My hold was a physical reminder of my love and yet it wasn’t a cuddle, rewarding them for their behaviour.  I have talked to a few mums who have been concerned that they would be hurt if they did this.  And that is true, some kids thrash around so much that this wouldn’t be wise.  My advice in those situations is to stay close.  Find another way to show physical love.

Tantrums come in all ages

As our children grow older they may still throw the occasional tantrum.  As I said, it looks different – it may be a huff-puff, rolling the eyes, slamming the door, and yelling.  The same principles apply:

  • Stop doing what you are doing and deal with it
  • Show them that you love them, even if they are being unlovable (show – don’t tell).   Older children can be removed to their room though don’t forget they are there!!
  • Talk through it when they are ready and receptive (I remove all benefits of family life while they are working on getting to a place where they can talk to me)

Tantrums are the one thing that throws a normally calm mother into a tizz.  Why is this?  Because we are completely out of control of this child – they know it, we know it, and anyone around us knows it.  This is where we must take a deep breath and tell ourselves that it isn’t about me, it is about my child’s heart.  Do we have the moral fortitude to stick by our child and help them learn to handle disappointment and authority in a better way.   When we fall into the trap thinking that it is about me, the parent, then we will do anything we can to pacify and annul the situation (in order for us to feel better as a parent).  Instead we need to find a way to guide our child out of the tantrum, and towards a heart change.


Further Reading:

What Heart Message do you Communicate when you Discipline: When we correct our children we have an opportunity to shape their heart – not only morally but also in how they view God.

Capturing the Heart of the Strong Willed Child:  Parenting the strong willed child is about capturing their heart – just like any other child. We may just have to go about it a different way.

Stop Saying Stop:  If we could only stop saying “stop” to our kids and start telling them what to do instead, we would be much more effective in our parenting.


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