Stopping Tantrums: What Can You Say To Your Child?
Having tantrums is a way for a child to say: “What I am feeling is stronger than I am, and I can’t control it.” It is normal for children to have these strong reactions of anger. They are not yet able to express the intense emotions they feel in words.
Tantrums generally begin at around two years of age. It is important to address them appropriately to contribute to the healthy emotional development of your child.
There are different types of tantrums. Sometimes, a tantrum can be a tool that a child uses to manipulate and get what he or she wants. Other times, they are rooted in deeper emotions.
But whatever the case, don’t respond to your child’s tantrum with one of your own. Stay calm, and remain in control of your own emotions.
As a parent, you must talk to your child about what has happened, but not while they are still kicking and screaming. Talk to them once they have calmed down.
In a moment of crisis, children don’t understand reason. During an outburst, therefore, experts suggest simply responding to your child with a hug. Speak to them softly and gently, and wait. When the tantrum is over, it will be time to talk.
Strategies for stopping tantrums
As we mentioned, tantrums are perfectly normal during early childhood. This is why it is so important to talk to your child after each episode. In this way, you will help them to reflect and mature, stopping tantrums from reoccurring.
- Keep in mind that when you speak to your child, you should do so clearly and directly, in concrete terms. It is important to make sure the child understands what you are saying.
- Friendly expressions, gestures, hugs, smiles and affectionate tones of voice are fundamental for your communication with your child at these moments. This does not mean that you approve of their behavior. You can let your child know that their outburst was unacceptable while still showing them that their parents care.
- During a tantrum, the adult in charge of the child should assess the situation. If you are somewhere where your child could get hurt, your first priority should be to take them somewhere more appropriate. During these few minutes, it’s best not to say anything at all. One strategy for stopping tantrums can be to get the child to focus their attention on something else. In this way, they will forget about the stimulus that caused the scene, and focus on another, with your guidance.
- Your conversation with the child should not be a reprimand. Remember that these outbursts are often involuntary and uncontrollable. Phrases like “I will help you to get over this” or “don’t worry, I’m here to help you”, along with a warm, reassuring tone, will help your child to feel calm and safe.
- Once the tantrum has passed, it’s important that you show your child how pleased you are with them for regaining control. This is the time to explain to them what would have been a better way to react. “When you feel like this, try to talk to me. Explain what you feel, and we’ll solve it, together.” “If mommy says ‘no’, you can ask why. There’s always a reason, and it’s always for your own good.” Try to use phrases like these.
- When you speak to your child, be careful not to express disapproval or judgement of them as a person. Talk only about their actions. You should never give them the idea that they are “bad.” What they did was bad. This is a fundamental distinction for discussing their behavior and the reasons for it. Children will only share what’s on their mind if they don’t feel judged.
- Children’s thinking is straightforward. When you talk to them, avoid vague and general terms. For example, it’s common for us to say to children: “be good.” But this expression can refer to so many different actions that the child may not fully understand. Other messages, such as “keep still”, “no more shouting” or “stop touching everything” are much clearer and easier to understand.
- Talking to your child also means listening to them. Try to understand the reasons for their actions. This is a good moment for your child to analyze their behavior and understand why it was not appropriate. Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to understand.
Tantrums should fade away as your child grows older, although outbursts of rage may reappear in different forms during adolescence. But whatever your child’s age, the general advice for stopping tantrums is the same.
Remain calm, open up a dialogue by listening as well as talking and adapt your message to the characteristics of your child. Above all, show your child that you love them and make sure they feel safe and cared for.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Federación de Enseñanza de CC.OO. de Andalucía. (2011). “Las rabietas en la etapa infantil”. En: Temas para la educación. Revista digital para profesionales de la enseñanza. https://www.feandalucia.ccoo.es/docu/p5sd8748.pdf
- Pearce, J. (1995). Berrinches, enfados y pataletas. Soluciones comprobadas para ayudar a tu hijo a enfrentarse a emociones fuertes. Barcelona: Paidos.
- Sáez Ruiz, D. (2000). La psicología al alcance de los padres. Consejos para papá y mamá. Valencia: Ed. Promolibro.
- Vallejo, M. P. (2010). Las Rabietas. https://archivos.csif.es/archivos/andalucia/ensenanza/revistas/csicsif/revista/pdf/Numero_31/MARIA_PEREZ_2.pdf