A child’s tantrum 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.

 

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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.

 

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Hi! I’m Belinda

About Me

HI I'm Belinda - welcome to my online space. I am a family life coach and help parents to raise their kids with faith, values and life skills in a way that is intentional, relational and heart focused. I am married to Peter, and live in the far north-west of Australia on a small farm. We have four adult children whom we homeschooled from prep-year 12. They've all left home now. But over the years I have taught and supported mums and dad (both face to face and online). I am passionate about families being a strong and healthy unit that helps the individual to grow but also celebrates the community of family.

Certified Life Coach

Over to you:

Do you have a plan for when your child throws a tantrum?

7 Comments

  1. Jessica

    Good article Mum! I need to remember these things for when I am babysitting! LOL!

    Reply
  2. MeMock

    This is almost exactly what I used to do (except I kept on shopping) and most likely learnt it from you! It was in Coles also with my eldest and as soon as I saw the early signs (I think this is really important) I grabbed her (shock value intended) and then got down to her level and held her whispering over and over ‘you need to get control’ she did, we talked, we continued shopping. The best thing is she has never had another one.
    I think with my 2nd child I had to do it twice but again, success and no problems for a long time.

    Reply
  3. elizevdm

    I very seldom have tantrums in the shop about something they want, anymore. I used to talk to them as well, but make them choose – we leave right now, or we continue to shop. I couldn’t hold them because they hit out with fists and feet, but I try to hold a hand, if possible. They also have one choice of something they want, i.e. a box of juice, a sweet, etc. They want something else, they have to choose – only one thing.

    But my biggest problem at this stage is when I take both boys with me shopping – they want to play in the shop, running around, etc. If I take one boy, no problem. They keep close to me, no shouting, playing, running. Our fights occur because I scold them for running away into different ailes and I lost sight of them. The staff in the shop also doesn’t help, as they know the boys and talk to and play with them when they see them.

    At home I let them cool off. I talk very sternly so they know I don’t like the behaviour (sometimes I have to give a hiding), but when they are calm, then we sit (boy on my lap) and talk. It usually is about something they want and can’t have, or the two fighting and hitting each other.

    Any advice, please?

    Reply
  4. lifestylehomeschool

    When I took more than one child shopping (when they were at walking age) I would have one holding the trolley each side. They were not allowed to let go of the trolley. If they did that was disobedience and we dealt with the disobedience, not the running around etc. If they yelled, argued, whined then I would get them to put their hand over their mouth and they were not allowed to speak. Consequences would happen at home if they lacked self control with this. They would lose a privilege – something that would teach them the importance of self control.

    The other area of training we worked on was before we left the car we would talk about what was expected. Once they reached the age of knowing well and truly what was expected, I would ask the questions and they would tell me (instead of me telling them over and over again.) This helped them know that I knew that they knew what was expected. It gave me the grounds to hold them accountable to do what was right.

    you don’t say what age your children are but I would address it head on. Tell them that you are not happy with their behaviour while grocery shopping and you are going to be working on it. Explain the standard and the consequneces. And be onto it – that is the first sign of stepping away from your expectations (presuming they are realistic) then you deal with the consequences. Go shopping a few times a week (a hassle I know but we have to give them plenty of opportunity to practice what we are teaching them). Give them praise – praise for their self control, for their obedience, and respect (of you, the other shoppers and the owners of the store.)

    One other thought is to be proactive at home – talking about appropriate behaviour in different places. You don’t see adults running around the store isles – you don’t see adults yelling at each other in the shopping center – there is inside behaviour and outside behaviour.

    Hope you can see an idea in all of that, something you can run with and work on for the next little while. It does take time to train our children to do the right thing.

    Reply
  5. elizevdm

    Thanks. The boys are 5 and 2yrs9m respectively. As I said, they both know what is expected, because if I have only one boy with me, then I don’t have a problem. He would walk next to me, we’ll talk about what we are buying, seeing, hearing, etc. normal, calm behaviour, but as soon as I have both boys, they start playing and running. I do tell them before we go into a shop what is expected, and last week has seen two instances where I actually complimented them on their behaviour and told them how proud I was that they were calm and soft in the shop. Would a wall chart help? If I have a board that says these are your privileges, and if you are disobedient then someting gets taken away?

    Reply
    • lifestylehomeschool

      I personally have never gone for charts – to my thinking they are more for the parent than the child – helps the parent keep focused. For me, it was just something I knew I was going to forget and be inconsistent with and that wasn’t fair to the child. So I try and keep any strategy I choose something that I know I’m going to work with consistently. So if you think a chart will help you keep focus then sure, go for it.

      I wonder what the trigger is that makes them think that when they are together they can play. I read your 1st comment out to my kids and we were talking about my reply and they remembered holding each other’s hands and walking behind me. I said, that only happened once you were doing the right thing. Before you were trained to do the right thing you were separated. Do you separate your boys? One each side? What triggers off the running and playing – does someone touch someone else? Do they go for verbal sparring? Are you not as focused in talking to them and involving them. When you go shopping with the two of them are you more stressed then when you just have one.

      Maybe you need to talk about shopping as a family and what is expected of them when they are together. They obviously know how to function as an individual but not as a pair. When we teach our kids these things we need to give them our thinking – why is this important, then we need to give them the action we want them to do – in this case I would have them hold the trolley – one either side. This works because 1. they are separated, and 2. they have something to actually do that will help them do the right thing. Telling them to hold the trolley is more tangible then telling them to be good or behave.

      I would also stop telling the five year old what you expect of him. He knows it. Instead ask him what are the 3 (or 5) things we do while shopping (I try and avoid the word “rule” though I have used it). No touching, Walk beside mum/hold the trolley, no asking for things, no running away etc… (You make up your most important things for him to remember and teach him those and then have him be able to tell you what they are). Then remind / tell the youngest what is important for him. At 2-3 yo this is probably just one or two things (Hold the trolley, don’t ask for stuff).

      Reply
  6. elizevdm

    I thought about this very hard, trying to find my errors: I don’t talk pro-actively with them (at home, i.e. play acting) about how to behave in certain places, only when we are there do I tell them. We had to wait for our turn at the hospital (Adam’s stitches came out), and they were good for 15-20min. then became bored and started pushing each other around. There was nothing for them to do, and I didn’t take anything with.

    The same thing at the shop. While they have their juice or eat a fruit, they are quiet and look around, but then they become bored and don’t just want to walk next to me, or ride in the trolley. Usually Adam stands in front of the trolley and Rocco is inside. I did try having them walk separate sides, but that also didn’t last long, and we seem to be in people’s way, because it takes up a lot of space. I try to go in the morning, when it is quieter. I am def. not as focused when they are together, and I am more stressed, because I just want to shop and get out. I used a child-leash on my youngest at a stage, and it was ok, he actually asked me to put it on, but then Adam continued to try and take it over, and that started them playing! I seem not to be in control, and not very consistent.

    Maybe if I rush less, concentrate on involving them more, and focus on the three things we do?!

    Reply

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