Four Things to Remember During a Tantrum

May 08, 2015

Even with the best behavior plan in place, it can sometimes be a struggle to handle tantrums. BCOTB has compiled a simple list of four important things to keep in mind each time you and your child needs to work through a tough behavioral moment:

1. Stay Calm

This is one of the most important things to remember when your child is having a difficult time. When you work through a tantrum with your child, it is important that you do not get excited or indicate that you are upset. Many children crave intensity, whether it be negative or positive. As a parent, you want to save intense attention for when your child is behaving well, not for when he/she is behaving inappropriately. Think of each tantrum as a learning moment: Your child either learns that their inappropriate behavior gains or loses your attention.

2. Think Function

Always ask yourself “What is my child getting from this situation?” The answer will usually be escape from a task, access to an item/activity, attention from a peer or adult, or some form of self-stimulation. Remember that if your child receives one of these consequences after engaging in an inappropriate behavior, and they continue to engage in this behavior in the future, they most likely enjoy the consequence they received. Therefore, you can handle tantrums more appropriately when you know what your child is getting out of his/her behaviors and what to eliminate as a consequence.

3. Be in Control

As stated in our first tip, it’s important to stay calm and limit attention during a tantrum. It’s also important to remember that you should always make sure you are in control before beginning to praise or deliver rewards to your child. You will know if you are in control if your child is calmly following a direction you gave him/her before their tantrum (when the directions caused the tantrum) or is calmly following simple directions you are giving them (if something else caused the tantrum). It’s important to have your child comply with some simple directives before accessing any fun activities /attention after a tantrum because you want to ensure the child does not come to associate the rewarding activity with his or her tantrum. As a parent, you also want to ensure that your child sees you as someone in authority who gives rewards but also gives instructions that need to be followed.

4. See it Through

Tantrums vary in length and intensity, making it difficult to be consistent and see them through. However, it is highly detrimental to your child’s behavior if you spend a long time working through his/her tantrum and then end up “giving in” or allowing escape from a task. When we do this, we teach children that they will eventually get what they want; they just need to work harder to get it. This exacerbates behavioral issues by making inappropriate behaviors more intense. A good rule to follow is “If you don’t have time to deal with a tantrum, don’t say ‘no’; don’t deliver a request to do a non-preferred activity,” etc. It’s better to avoid making a behavior more intense because you don’t have time to follow through than to eventually “give in” or “give up” during a tantrum. If you know the situations that normally set your child off and usually cause tantrums, try to create those situations when you are not busy and have time to teach your child that his/her inappropriate behavior will not be effective. For instance, if your child has trouble with the word “no,” set aside some time each day to tell him/her “no” and then work through the ensuing tantrum.

These four steps to keep in mind are general tips for successfully handling tantrums. If you have more questions about how to handle tough behavioral situations or have more specific questions, please see one of our analysts. We are always available to help coach you through these four steps and will make visits to your home to ensure you are receiving individualized support though these difficult moments.

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