What to Do About Temper Tantrums

(I’ve pulled this post out of the archives to share again. Janie is nine now… time flies!)

So, my littlest sweetheart just turned two.  The five that went before her, were two years old at one time also.  Yes they were!

I’ve seen some tantrums!  

Just so you know, my kiddos are pretty incredible… smart, sweet little things!  But every now and then they have their moments.  We try to be consistent.  We try to use some good psychology.  We don’t have situations where our toddlers rule over the house with their whims and desires.  They know this house is run by Mom & Dad, not them.  But that selfish desire to have their own way rears it’s ugly head from time to time.

My Janie is giving me a little more practice in dealing with tantrums than any of her older siblings.  She’s so darling, and her little moments of self-indulgence just melt my heart.  I’ve seen stubbornness in children before, but she is not ashamed to let her feelings be known.  I am sure it is the sign of a girl who will one day become a strong, godly woman!  Don’t ya think?

Like I said, we’ve done this before, so we’ve had some practice.  Between that, and the fact that I’ve been dealing with these tantrums as of late, I’ve come up with a pretty good system.  There’s really never a one-size-fits-all answer for anything, but here are some tips for new parents who may be dealing with tantrums for the first time, and don’t know which school of thought to follow.

1.)  If your child doesn’t throw tantrums:  Congratulations!  Enjoy that!  I’ve had a couple of kids who made things easy for me in that way.  Just please try to be understanding of the parents around you who are struggling to find the right solution for their families.  It’s the “you haven’t walked in their shoes” thing.  You know.

2.)  Every child is different:  You can keep having babies and keep having babies, and they will keep coming out different than the rest!  I know I’m stating the obvious, but after you have a few children, you really do realize this truth in a very big way.  Once you think you have things figured out, you realize you don’t!  Keep this in mind when you have to tweak and adjust your methods with the varied tantrums that come from varied persons.  The same goes for these tips… take what works, and leave the rest.

3.)  Be proactive:  In many cases, if your discipline is consistent and your (loving) authority has been established, you can prevent most tantrums by avoiding triggers.  Triggers for tantrums can be being hungry, tired, or frustrated.  For instance, I rarely see a tantrum from Janie on a day when I have kept her belly full, made sure she got to nap/bed before she became overtired, and when I explain what is expected from her in new situations before they occur.

4.)  Explain, explain, explain:  I learned this valuable lesson from my firstborn’s piano teacher.  This lady started teaching children when they turned three, and would have a room full of little squirmers for group lessons, all lined up along the wall, sitting like statues.  She would tell a new three year old when they came in the room… “I expect you to sit here, like this, with your hands this way, (for a 40 minute group lesson).  This is how we do it here.  You are big enough to do this, and you will do great.”  She had confidence that they could, and they heard it in her voice.  Those kids knew they could sit still, behave, and obey, because she believed they could.  Watching her do this blew my “young new mom” mind.  I now employ this way of explaining what’s expected (when I’m on top of my game, of course) with the smaller kiddos when we’re going into any new situation.  Children have a much better reaction to a situation when they know ahead of time how they will be expected to act.

5.)  Talk, talk, talk:  Same thing, huh?!?  But communicating does wonders, doesn’t it?  If I can see that Janie is overtired and there is the possibility of a meltdown trying to put her in bed (which is now my fault for not putting her to bed on time), I try to distract her when I see her start to complain.  I shower her with love and smiles, and we talk about what great fun thing she is going to get to do in the morning when she wakes up.  Instead of trying to discipline that bad attitude out of her, I avoid an unnecessary battle by loving her lots and talking about how big she is, and how well she obeyed today, etc.  We can work on “how to have a good attitude” and “how to obey” in the morning when she’s fresh, by explaining, talking, role playing, and training.

6.)  Try to look through the actions, into the heart:   When I was a new mom, I saw tantrums as a challenge of my authority.  I thought it was as simple as a battle of the wills.  Things may sometimes be that simple, but feeling upset and threatened by a lack of respect for my authority can keep me from a real understanding of what’s going on my little child’s heart.  I like to try to think, “Is my sweetheart scared of this new, big situation?  Does she feel like she has lost control of her whole world, and doesn’t know how to cope?  Is she upset about more than this, and I haven’t been paying attention to what may have led up to this?”  Children’s minds and hearts are complex, just like an adult.  Just because they are under our authority does not make them less of a person, with less important feelings.  Look into those little eyes and try to see if they are searching for understanding, trying to grasp why that fleshly nature can’t have what it wants. Take time to whisper a quick prayer for wisdom and understanding.  And try not to react as if your little one is your enemy.

7.)  If necessary, ignore:  Once Janie has “tantrumed” to the point of no return, we have to just leave her alone for a while (not REALLY alone, of course- just not paying attention to her).  It’s not a punishment and it doesn’t scare her.  She actually doesn’t want anyone talking to her or trying to fix it when she’s that upset.  So, intentional ignoring works great once she’s decided she’ll settle for nothing but a good cry on the floor.  She actually only has her tantrums at home or in the car.  (I think I do a better job of being proactive when I’m in public.)

8.)  Timing is everything:  When your child has lost their emotional control, it is not a good time to “teach them a lesson”.  They have lost their capacity for rational thought at this point.  For instance, once my littlest sweetheart has reached the climax of her meltdown, crying and writhing on the floor, it’s time to step back.  I try to approach her every few minutes, and for Janie, it takes several attempts of asking if she’s ready for a hug (reconciliation).  But I don’t hover over her, begging or lecturing while she’s out of it.  I keep trying every  few minutes with an opportunity for her to choose a good alternative, and choose peace and reconciliation. If she’s unapproachable when I try again, I make it quick and leave her to her fit.  Eventually, I get to make my last pass, with open arms and smile, and she is finally ready to melt into my arms when I again say “are you ready to be done, and hug Mommy?”

9.)  Do obedience and behavior training in the good moments:  In case it sounds like I’m a pushover, I’d better add that it is a VERY good idea to obedience train and teach self-control!  It is just most effectively taught when a child is well rested and in good spirits.

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