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Temper Tantrums

I will never forget the evening my daughter, then 3, had a full blown temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store.  She threw herself down and started kicking and screaming because she wanted a cookie.  Everyone was staring at me with that “what did you do to your child?” look.  I picked her up and walked swiftly out of the grocery store and into my car.  I sat her on my lap in the back seat of the car and held her until she got it together, rocking and singing her favorite Barney songs.  I did not return to the store, but drove home with her calmly singing and waving her hands to the music in her car seat, tears still staining her little face.

Temper tantrums are unpleasant and disruptive behaviors or emotional outbursts. They often occur in response to unmet needs or desires. Tantrums are more likely to occur in younger children or anyone else who cannot express their needs or control their emotions when they are frustrated. Our children need to be attended to when they are unable to control their emotions, no matter where the breakdown occurs (

There are a few tips I learned along the way that may be of help.

If you must take your child shopping, grocery or otherwise, do so in the morning after they have eaten a good breakfast or AFTER they have napped and had a good and filling snack.Children will not tend to ask for snacks if they are full.  I know that we know this trick but our lives get busy and when we have to hit the store and little Sasha is in the car at 4pm on the way home from day care, grab something he can snack on and pay for it at the checkout.  He’ll be less likely to “hit the wall” while you are picking up milk and butter.

If your child throws down in public, get out of the public eye as soon as you can.Like a flame, tantrums feed on attention and the less the better.  Go find a private space to calm him down.  Stay with your child and rock him or talk to him.  Rub his back if he will allow it,  If not, stay close but maintain a “you may not hurt yourself or others” rule if he needs to kick and scream.

A word about TIME OUT here is called for.  If a child has never learned to self calm by having his needs met consistently will not learn to calm down by being put in time out away from the adults who are supposed to “be there”.  They will only become angry and frustrated older children and teenagers. Time out is not a good solution for children who have experienced neglect, abuse, or institutional care.  Time IN involves sitting the child by you with or without attention until they can get their emotions under control.   Time in works better if they are given limited attention until they calm down but if they have not had a lot of experience calming down, rock him, sing, talk softly until he is calm, meet his toilet or food needs, all the things you would do with an infant.  When trust has developed, time in will work effectively.

All children experience frustration at some point in their lives, even the most attached child on the planet will throw a temper tantrum at some point.  The difference is frequency and duration.  Children who have experienced the frustration of unmet needs and disjointed connections will act out in aggressive and uncontrolled ways much more frequently.   The key to helping children learn to control themselves is to help them by staying the course, put them in time in, with you so you can teach them to calm down, speak slowly and softly in loving ways, and not taking it personally.


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