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What is the Best Way to Diffuse Temper Tantrums?

The signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in young children may include excessive crying and irritability.
Temper tantrums often manifest from a child being overwhelmed emotionally.
Consequences should be timely, relevant, and consistent.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2014
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How to stop temper tantrums is frequently disputed. First, a parent or caregiver must bear in mind that temper tantrums are a part of development, especially to children between the ages of one to three. They may occur later, as well. Frequent temper tantrums in an older child should be investigated for possible psychological or physical causes.

The child experiencing temper tantrums is usually emotionally overwhelmed. With language skills still being acquired, articulating wants and needs may be challenging. Even children with advanced language skills are still figuring out how to name emotions, and what to do with feelings of intense emotion. This is also the case with some adults, so children are not exactly alone here.

Children may throw a tantrum when their wishes are opposed, if they are having a time out for misbehaving, or if they cannot get a caregiver’s attention in any other way. They are more vulnerable to tantrums when tired or hungry or when they feel neglected by parents. Some temper tantrums may be completely avoided by seeing to a child’s physical and emotional needs before it progresses to a tantrum.

If a child makes a request, parents should consider it before instantly saying no. Many temper tantrums begin when children’s requests are never honored. Reasonable requests should be accommodated, as this gives the child a feeling of control. When a request is unreasonable or can’t be honored, the result may of course be temper tantrums.

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Children throwing temper tantrums do not respond to reasoned explanations of their behavior. Tantrums tend to escalate when the caregiver becomes upset. So keeping calm is quite important. At the same time, the parent may make comments that give children the emotional language that helps them express their feelings in less negative ways. “I see you are very angry and disappointed that we can’t have a playdate today,” might be an appropriate response.

Most child developmental experts agree that hitting or spanking is not a good response to temper tantrums. Though this might stop a tantrum, it asserts the position that a child can get what he or she wants by hitting. Future tantrums may incorporate hitting the caregiver or another child. Yelling at the child is likely to result in the child yelling back. The goal is to calm and soothe the child before dealing with behavior infractions or issues relating to what started the tantrum.

Once you have articulated the child’s feelings in a calm way, you may want to have a safe space for the child to throw temper tantrums. Usually ignoring a temper tantrum of short duration is feasible when the child is placed in an environment where he or she cannot destroy property or get injured. Ignoring the tantrum as much as possible teaches the child that he or she will not get much attention from this type of expression.

Alternately, one may want to try to distract the child. If you notice the early signs of an impending tantrum, introducing a new topic, game, or idea may keep a tantrum from starting. During a tantrum, this occasionally works as well. As the tantrum progress, however, distraction is more difficult.

When temper tantrums last more than a few minutes, you may want to approach the child again, and tell the child you are there to help them calm down. Some children will now respond to being held and spend a little while crying in your arms. If children are being particularly destructive and you fear for their safety, you may have to safely hold them sooner. The hold should restrict movement, but should not be so tight as to hurt them.

Once the tantrum is over, do not give in on the issue causing the tantrum. Children who realize that tantrums will achieve the desired end will have more temper tantrums in the future. Instead, distract focus to another activity unrelated to the tantrum. Try not to get angry, or remain angry with a child who has tantrums. Sometimes it is very natural to feel angry or upset, but tantrums are for the most part, a normal part of development. Your calm handling of temper tantrums will in most cases help the child develop beyond this state.

Lastly, if your child’s tantrum has caused you to spank or yell, you should apologize to your child. If you often spank or yell during a tantrum, you might consider seeking the guidance of a parent group, doctor or therapist, who can help you find ways to control your anger. Chances are, if you can’t learn this control, your child will not learn it either.

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Discuss this Article

anon335838
Post 6

@anon173904: My son has ADHD, and we are trying to confirm if he also has autism as well. I started doing research and I saw an article that said putting a child in time out who has ADHD is torture. The article offered punishment ideas, like taking away something valued by the child or restricting them to their room for a period of time.

anon232456
Post 5

Temper tantrums basically are the children’s fastest ways of expressing any obstruction with the things happening around them. This is hard to accept, but kids still lack the self-discipline that breeds success.

They need self-control when dealing with different situations. The best thing to understand as parents is to control and stop the child’s temper tantrums before they do this to us.

anon173904
Post 4

my daughter is eleven and has meltdowns almost every day. now if things aren't controlled by her or done her way, they are becoming worse and are taking a toll on other kids and my significant other. she won't talk, only screams as loud as possible. we tried timeout but she only makes herself louder so is impossible to ignore.

she only stops when worn out or we give in. does anyone else have an older child with adhd who does this at this age?

wecallherana
Post 3

@baileybear - She is not Autistic if that is what you are thinking. We thought she might have been a while back, but tests show she is a normal 5 year old. I am thinking that she sees the 2 year old's temper tantrums and wants to either participate or get attention. It is much different from an infant's temper tantrums because there are only so many things an infant can or will want and then they will be sated. I appreciate the sentiment, though, I think I will try some things in this article.

baileybear
Post 2

@wecallherana - Children's temper tantrums will vary from child to child. Since you don't really know why your child is acting out this way, you might want to consult a doctor. I'm not saying anything is wrong with her, but you should get a professional opinion if there is no true reasoning behind the fit she is throwing.

wecallherana
Post 1

I definitely could have used this article about five minutes ago. My toddler has temper tantrums all the time, but it's my 5 year old's temper tantrums that have become increasingly worse. I am not sure why or what is upsetting her, but if she doesn't get her way she thinks that this will get the job done, help!

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