How to Stop a Temper Tantrum

Nothing brings dread and helplessness into the heart of a toddler’s parent quite like a tantrum: they seem to happen at the most inopportune moments (like in public), and parents feel powerless to stop these outbursts that seem to be absolutely irrational and without cause. Normally between the ages of 2 and 3, most children will go through a period of tantruming-very few do not and it is a normal part of childhood development. Until recently, most parents thought this was something that they simply had to endure until the child outgrew the phase.

Fortunately, we now have the power to stop them. As it turns out, tantrums have a predictable pattern to them. Scientists have known for quite some time that temper tantrums tend to have two phases, the first phase which tends to be predominated by angry feelings, with screaming, hitting, throwing things, and kicking. The second phase is predominated by sadness with crying, whining, whimpering, and the seeking of comfort from caretakers.

What scientists have discovered recently, however, is that there is sadness and anger in both phases of the tantrum and that they are going on simultaneously. The key to controlling the tantrum is to abbreviate the angry reaction and encourage the child to seek out comfort from their caretaker. The trick to getting the tantrum to end is to get the child past the peaks of anger. Once the child is past the anger, what is left is sadness, and at that point, they seek out comfort and love.

The quickest way past the anger? DO NOTHING. This can be the hardest thing for the parent to do, since the child seems so out of control and parents often feel that they must do SOMETHING to help ameliorate the situation. Experts state, however, that even asking questions to the child, such as, “how can I help you?” or “what do you need?” simply prolong the angry phase of a tantrum.

Remember, DO NOTHING when the child is angry, and then provide comfort when sadness predominates.

Jennifer De Francisco, MSW, MSW, LCSW, offers infidelity counseling, couples counseling, psychotherapy, and counseling for depression in the Newport Beach, Irvine, and Orange County area at (949) 251-8797.

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