Throwing tantrums is part of a child’s development, learning how to calm themselves and control their emotions is an important skill. Children have a desire for independence and often get frustrated at not being able to understand or do something. Tantrums may also be a sign of wanting attention or a way of showing emotional overload.
Preventing a tantrum is always the best option if possible. The main tool for prevention is to establish a few, clear ground rules and stick to them. Children are less likely to get frustrated when they know the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
Positive reinforcement is a good tool for tantrum prevention, especially those tantrums that are a learnt behaviour, rather than an emotional release. Most settings have a system for positive reinforcement and the most successful include sticker charts, certificates and ‘golden time’ – letting the child play with something he/she really likes. It is also important to take time to think about how the child is feeling, if they look sad/angry make use of the quiet areas for him/her to calm down or think about what is making him/her sad.
Distraction is also a good preventative tool, but it only works if the tantrum is caught before it really gets going. Getting to know children’s particular triggers is valuable as it provides a warning system for a looming melt-down.
If the child has gone in to a full blown tantrum try to take them away from the rest of the children as this can exacerbate the tantrum or make the child feel uncomfortable.
Stay calm! Children are very perceptive of adults’ emotions. Stay calm and the child will see that the tantrum is not working with you and eventually learn that there are better ways to resolve the situation. With preschool children it is also important that after a dispute that they restore the troubled relationship afterwards, as children who throw tantrums may not mean to harm/affect others and therefore can be very upset that they may have hurt a friend. Making sure that it issues have been resolved before the next play/break time is important. Talk about their choices using simple, age appropriate words and establish the root cause of the tantrum and discuss the consequences in the future if the same situation arises.
A child who has frequent tantrums is not doing it because they want to be naughty. Work with the child’s parents to establish a common approach to dealing with the tantrums and check whether there are circumstances at home that may be provoking the tantrums. Try to get to the cause of the problem before a tantrum occurs but if it is too late and the child is having a tantrum keep calm.