Practical, peaceful techniques that every parent can implement to help with early detection and prevention of the dreaded temper tantrum.

It is a difficult situation for everyone involved when a child has a temper tantrum. Parents are embarrassed, onlookers are annoyed, and children themselves feel scared and unsure. As long as there have been children, there have been temper tantrums. It seems that they are just a part of life for little ones and their parents. There are, however, a few simple strategies parents can use to shorten the tantrums or avoid them altogether.

Address physical needs before a tantrum meltdown

Many tantrums are the result of physical needs not being met. When children are hungry, thirsty, tired, or over-stimulated, they are more likely to lash out. When possible, parents should plan ahead and bring snacks and drinks when going on an extended outing with their child. Also, being home when it is nap time or time for bed is crucial.

Many parents set themselves up for failure when they don’t take a child’s sleep schedule into account and plan too much into the child’s day. Additionally, having a plan in place for what to do when over-stimulation occurs is also important. Children need time to decompress and process new experiences. Giving them quiet time to just relax can help stave off tantrums.

Give advance notice before transitions or changes in routine

Children are creatures of habit. They crave routines. Deviations in routines or transitioning from one activity to another without a warning leaves children feeling frustrated. Frustration can often lead to a tantrum. Telling children about an unexpected change in the normal routine of the day helps them know what is coming next. Making the change “an adventure” can even add an exciting element to an otherwise problematic situation.

When transitioning from one activity to another, for instance, when it is time to leave the park or the pool, parents should try giving several reminders telling how much time is left. Using the same increments of time will help even young children gauge how much longer it will be before they have to leave. For example, giving reminders such as “We’ll be leaving in 10 minutes,” then “We’ll be leaving in 5 minutes,” and finally, “We’ll be leaving in 2 minutes” every time helps children predict how much time they have left, and eases the transition into the next activity.

Give choices to children

Many children become resistant when parents issue commands. The child’s need for power rises to the surface. Children will dig in their heels and a little molehill can quickly become a mountain. Giving children choices and letting them make age-appropriate decisions for themselves gives them some of that power back. Choosing between two different outfits to wear for the day or choosing between two different kinds of vegetables to eat with dinner lets children have a say in what they do. This is an easy way to prevent those dreaded tantrums.

Lighten the moment

Many times, when parents think back on the events leading up to a tantrum, they can pinpoint a moment when the mood could have been shifted. When parents suspect a meltdown is looming, doing something unexpected can change the trajectory of a tantrum and may help avoid it altogether.

Making a child laugh by making a funny face or speaking in a funny voice, or even acting like a child themselves, can take a difficult situation and turn it around completely. Suggesting something silly and unexpected, like having a crabwalk race or seeing who can balance a book on their head the longest can immediately lighten a mood. When the child is feeling calmer, the original issue can be addressed with a more peaceful outcome.

Listen to your child

Many times, children just want to know that someone is truly listening to them. Taking the time to really hear their child’s point of view can enable parents to gain insight into why the child might be resistant to an idea or request. If the child is feeling upset or hurt, parents can validate those feelings by listening and responding with true compassion. Children need the opportunity to voice their objections and really feel that they are being heard and understood. When this happens, they are more likely to listen to, or even come up with, a suitable solution or compromise to the problem at hand.

Parenting is not easy. Temper tantrums will inevitably occur, but when parents know the warning signs and are armed with some simple but powerful techniques to avoid them, everyone wins!

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