Tantrums…Everybody Has Them, What Parents Can Do

Author – Moira Sullivan, MS, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist


Everyone has witnessed a child throw a tantrum. For Parents, it is nerve wracking, embarrassing, exhausting and makes them want to throw their own tantrum. What should a parent do? Grandparents and Great Grandparents everywhere nostalgically remind us that “in their day, a good slap with the belt….” But, spanking is a parents’ own tantrum, a reaction to something a parent does not like. There are better ways to quell a child’s tantrum and reduce their frequency.

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First of all, when a child, or an adult for that matter, is in the middle of a yelling fit, they usually don’t respond to verbal directions or soothing. They are so caught up in the moment that they literally cannot hear and respond to what is being said to them. Asking them to calm down or stop usually doesn’t work and may make the tantrum worse. Think about when you were upset and someone said “oh calm down”, did it work for you?

So what does work? As a child’s energy escalates, bring your own energy down. Lower your body. Lower your voice. Become more still.

Deep pressure is usually calming. Giving a hug not to restrain but to provide deep pressure input, massaging your child’s back or limbs, sometimes joint compressions can be helpful. Think of techniques that help calm your child when she or he is upset in other contexts and use them here. For information on health insurance your family can afford, click here.

When your child’s energy level lowers to the point where they can respond to your words, reflect with her or him at their level. “You’re mad. You really wanted that toy.” It sounds silly, but it works.

I am not advocating giving in to the tantrum, all that will do is reinforce that yelling and screaming works to get what they want. When you reflect with your child, you are not giving in. Reflecting and acknowledging their feelings helps build empathy and resilience. Acknowledgement that things are not always as we want them to be is a way of teaching your child the realities of daily life, not only in that none of us gets our way all the time, but that life goes on.

Finally, take a deep breath for yourself and take comfort in knowing that this happens to all parents, especially those that cast withering looks your way when your child was upset!

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