Friday, November 7, 2008

10 Ways to Tame Your Child's Tantrums

When your kid's in the middle of a tantrum, it can be tough to keep yourself from having your own meltdown, too.

Meltdowns are terrible, nasty things, but they're a fact of childhood. Young kids -- namely those between the ages of 1 and 4 -- haven't developed good coping skills yet. They tend to just lose it instead. And what, exactly, sets them off to begin with? Every single tantrum is the results from one simple thing: not getting what they want. For children between 1 and 2, tantrums often stem from trying to communicate a need -- more milk, a diaper change, that toy over there -- but not having the language skills to do it. They get frustrated when you don't respond to what they're 'saying' and throw a fit. For older toddlers, tantrums are more of a power struggle. "By the time kids are 3 or 4, they have grown more autonomous, they're keenly aware of their needs and desires -- and want to assert them more. If you don't comply? Tantrum city.

So how can you stop these outbursts? What follows are 10 freak-out fixes that both parenting experts and other moms swear by.

Ignore the Kid

The reason this works is fascinating: During a tantrum, your child is literally out of his mind. His emotions take over -- overriding the frontal cortex of the brain, the area that makes decisions and judgments. That's why reasoning doesn't help -- the reasoning part of his brain isn't working. There's nothing to do in the moment that will make things better. In fact, almost anything you try will make it worse. Once he chills out, then you can talk.

Give Your Child Some Space

Sometimes a kid just needs to get his anger out. So let him!. Just make sure there's nothing in tantrum's way that could hurt him. I'm a big believer in this approach because it helps children learn how to vent in a nondestructive way. They're able to get their feelings out, pull themselves together, and regain self-control -- without engaging in a yelling match or battle of wills with you. This trick can work on its own or in tandem with the whole ignoring bit.

Create a Diversion

This is all about a deft mental switcheroo -- getting your kid engaged and interested in something else so she forgets about the meltdown she was just having. Children have pretty short attention spans -- which means they're usually easy to divert. And it always helps if you sound really, really psyched when you do it. It gets their mind off the meltdown and on to the next thing that much faster. You have to channel your inner actress and be an entertainer -- one with props!

Find Out What's Really Frustrating Your Kid

This trick is for tantrums among the under-2-and-a-half set, Children this age usually have a vocabulary of only about 50 words and can't link more than two together at a time. Their communication is limited, yet they have all these thoughts and wishes and needs to be met. When you don't get the message or misunderstand, they freak out to release their frustration. One solution, he says: sign language. Teaching your child how to sign a few key words -- such as more, food, milk, and tired -- can work wonders.


This may feel like the last thing you want to do when your kid is freaking out, but it really can help her settle down. I'm talking about a big, firm hug, not a supercuddly one. And don't say a word when you do it -- again, you'd just be entering into a futile battle of wills. Hugs make kids feel secure and let them know that you care about them, even if you don't agree with their behavior. Sometimes I think they just need a safe place to get their emotions out.

Offer Food or Suggest a Little R&R

Being tired and hungry are the two biggest tantrum triggers. Physically, the kid is already on the brink, so it won't take much emotionally to send him over. My advice: feed them, water them, and let them veg -- whether that means putting them to bed or letting them watch a little TV.

Give your Kid and Incentive to Behave

It's about recognizing when you're asking a lot of your child and offering him a little preemptive bribe.

Speak Calmly

Talking in a soothing voice shows your child that you're not going to let her behavior get to you. It also helps you stay relaxed -- when what you really want to do is yell right back. In fact, the calm tone is as much for the parent as the child! If you're tense, your kid will pick up on it, and it's going to amp her up even more.

Laugh It Off

Kids, even very young ones, are smart. If you get angry or stressed or cave in and let him get his way just to end the meltdown before more people start staring, he'll learn that -- aha! -- it works." Your best bet, is to suck it up, plaster a little Mona Lisa smile on your face, and pretend everything is just peachy. And what are others thinking? The only thing people judge is your reaction to the meltdown, if you look calm and like you've got it under control -- yes, even though you're not doing anything to stop the fit -- they think, Now that's a good mom.

Get Out of There

Getting kids away from the scene of the tantrum can snap them out of it. It's also a great strategy when you're out and about. If your child starts melting down over a toy or candy bar he wants, pick him up and take him either to a different area of the store or outside until he calms down. Changing the venue really can change the behavior.


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