While every parent tries to prevent tantrums, there will be times when little ones simply lose their cool. When this happens to your child, there's not much you can do -- he simply has to vent. Here's some expert advice on handling these outbursts:
1. Keep your cool and deal with the tantrum as calmly as possible. Remember, you are your child's role model for handling anger, notes Ray Levy, PhD, coauthor of Try and Make Me! Simple Strategies That Turn Off the Tantrums and Create Cooperation (Rodale Press, 2001). Though it may be tempting to yell at or lecture your child, Levy advises parents to take a "clip it" or "zip it" approach. State your position calmly, he says, and make it short and to the point.
2. Walk away from her when she's having an outburst. If you don't feel comfortable leaving the scene, stay nearby, but keep busy, suggests Dr. Tolmas. Don't make eye contact or start arguing with your child. If she sees her tantrum isn't having an effect on you, she'll most likely stop.
3. When your child is having a public tantrum, pick him up and carry him calmly to a safe place. Take him to your car or a public bathroom, where he can blow off steam. Be careful not to overreact or lash out at your child because you're embarrassed. Once you're in a quieter place, calmly explain your position, and try to ignore the tantrum until it stops. Sometimes just touching or stroking a child will soothe him. If your child continues to scream, place him securely in his car seat and head for home.
4. Talk in soothing tones. If your child throws a tantrum in a place that you just can't leave (like an airplane), talk to him in a quiet tone, suggests Levy. If it helps to keep you calm, repeat the same phrase over and over.
5. Don't try to reason with a child who's having a tantrum. He is so emotionally out of control that this won't work, Levy notes.
6. Use humor or distraction to draw your child out of a tantrum. Make a funny face or point out something interesting to take your child's attention away from the source of frustration.
7. In some cases, give in to the tantrum (within reason). Sometimes this is a smart strategy, notes says Dr. Hagan. While bribery ("I'll give you some ice cream if you stop crying") should never be an option, if you want to have a peaceful car ride, you might give in to your child's request to hear the same tape over and over again.
8. Don't ignore aggressive actions. If your child is behaving aggressively during a tantrum -- kicking, hitting, biting, throwing, or breaking things -- take action. If possible, remove your child from the source of his anger, and hold him or give him some time alone to calm down and regain control. For children old enough to understand, a time-out may be effective.
Many children just seem to snap out of a tantrum as quickly and inexplicably as they got into it in the first place. Once the tantrum is over, Dr. Hagan suggests going to your child, giving him a hug and a kiss, telling him you love him, and moving on. Dwelling on the outburst only makes them feel bad and may even cause the tantrum to start up again.
If you want to have a discussion with your 3- or 4-year-old, talk about the tantrum several hours after it's over. Ask your child to tell you what set off her outburst, and help her think about problem-solving strategies for the future.
Additional reporting by Karen Horsch
The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.