How to manage children’s tantrums? 7 useful tips
Does your child have frequent tantrums and you don’t know how to manage them? Do you work with children and do these episodes often interfere with your work, not knowing how to act? Don’t despair, in this article you will find 7 detailed guidelines on how to manage children’s tantrums .
It is important to emphasize, but, that beyond these guidelines, it will be important to intervene from empathy and respect, encouraging in him/her, the acquisition of personal resources to face those moments of anger that sometimes even they do not know how to manage.
Tantrums in childhood
Children’s tantrums are moments of anger and rage, sometimes overwhelming , that appear as a response to a stimulus, which can be internal (for example being very sleepy) or external (for example not being able to get something bought).
These usually appear at any age: from very young, to past adolescence. You cannot (and should not) act in the same way with all of them, because each child is a world and lives his or her own process.
Moreover, the causes of tantrums are also very different : immaturity, low self-control, boredom, inadequate parental styles, malaise, sadness, lack of resources, low tolerance to frustration…
Having said that, it is worth knowing the following guidelines on how to manage children’s tantrums, which should always be adjusted to the age and the evolutionary moment of the child . In addition, it will be important to find out the cause of the tantrum in order to prevent it and, in case it appears again, to act in a more effective and beneficial way for the child.
How to manage children’s tantrums and tantrums
These are tips on how to manage children’s tantrums, adaptable to any age. Remember that it will be important to apply them at the right time, and knowing the child well, so that they are more effective.
1. Apply extinction
The first guideline we offer you on how to manage children’s tantrums has to do with a highly effective behavior modification technique: extinction. This consists of stopping paying attention to the child’s behaviour , which is maintained precisely by this attention or by any other action that reinforces (often without our noticing) this behaviour.
For example, if a child cries for a tantrum, because he wants to be listened to, and whenever he cries we pay attention to him, we are maintaining that behavior. Or if, for example, a child always swears, and we constantly tell him, “Don’t swear,” this is no longer effective. Practicing extinction means “ignoring” that behavior and not reinforcing it in any way.
With time, the behaviors that are put under extinction, disappear . Logically, not all behaviours are susceptible to extinction (for example if they are dangerous behaviours), and each specific case must be analysed.
2. Reason with them
Another interesting guideline we can apply, when faced with children’s tantrums, is to reason with them. The conversation we have with them should have the purpose of making them reflect on their behaviour and on the purpose of it .
Finally, we should encourage them to explore new behavioural alternatives to be applied, instead of the tantrum that, in the end, does not provide anything positive. The important thing is to encourage reflection.
3. Talk to them about how they feel
Related to the above pattern, it is also important to talk to them about how they are feeling at the moment. Many times we will not be able to ask them when the tantrum occurs, and we will have to wait a reasonable time for the intensity of their response to decrease.
Once this happens, we can find a time and a quiet space with them, to talk about how they are feeling, why they are behaving this way, if there is something bothering them, etc. Often, behind a tantrum another feeling is hidden, which can be sadness . It is good for both parties to investigate.
The fourth guideline on how to manage children’s tantrums concerns anticipation, a key tool for avoiding many inappropriate behaviors. This point is not easy, and must be worked on. Anticipating tantrums requires getting to know our child and empathizing with him/her as much as possible .
When we learn to detect small gestures of the face, the body, a specific type of language, an emotion, etc. in him/her, prior to the tantrum, we can start to act. To anticipate, we must also know what our child may be feeling at that moment: Rabies because he/she is among many people? Discontent because we have not bought him/her what we wanted? Excessive sleep because he/she has not slept well?
Depending on this, our response should be one or the other. For example, take him away from people in case we are in a crowd, let him know that he can sleep when we get home, etc.
5. Set limits that you can respect
It is very important, during the educational process, to set limits. However, “not all limits are valid”, and we must also be moderate in this regard. Saying NO to everything is not beneficial for them, and flexibility is the key .
Being flexible with your desires, but also your tantrums and your needs, can help us prevent precisely those tantrums. If children constantly run into the NO wall that keeps them from doing anything, they can feel suffocated and consequently act out in a tantrum.
That is why from here, we propose the following: Limits? Yes, but not for everything.
6. Play with them
Another guideline on how to manage children’s tantrums is simply to play with them. Sometimes children’s tantrums arise because they are bored, or they have been “crushed” by a plan they had in mind.
In view of this, and always depending on the age of the child (adjusting to this), sometimes a good option is to play with them, distract them… Sometimes it is better to play down the tantrum, not letting it spread too much and become too important.
7. Manage your anger too
When faced with children’s tantrums, it is normal to lose one’s temper at some point, to feel overwhelmed… however, we must try to avoid our anger from appearing as well, as this often intensifies the child’s response.
That is why it is important that we, as parents, educators, therapists… keep calm and act from it.
- BM Newman, PR Newman, XM Villela and RR Perez. (1986). Manual de psicología infantil. Mexico: Ediciones Ciencia y Técnica.
- Horse, V. and Simon, B.A. (2002). Manual de Psicología Clínica Infantil y del Adolescente. General disorders. Pyramid. Madrid.
- Comeche, M.I. and Vallejo, M.A. (2016). Handbook of behavioral therapy in childhood. Dykinson. Madrid.