Temper tantrums are very common, especially in children 2 to 3 years of age. When viewed in context, temper tantrums can be an extremely constructive part of the development of a healthy child. That said, there are still a few things you can do to minimize their impact on you and those around you.
First, here are some suggestions for preventing temper tantrums:
- Try to avoid emotional storms whenever possible. Children are most susceptible to storms when they are tired, hungry, uncomfortable or bored.
- When possible, plan shopping for times when your child is rested, fed, and healthy.
- Interact with your child throughout shopping and/or bring along stimulating toys or books.
- Remember the situation from your child’s perspective: you are going along making choice, after choice, after choice, but when he tries to make a choice, he doesn’t get what he wants.
- It’s often helpful to let your child pick out one or two things when at the store. A good way to do this is when a child asks for something, instead of saying, “No,” (which will immediately make him or her say, “Yes!”) say, “Let’s write that down.” Then write it down. When your child asks for something else, write that down, too. Then when you are all done, read back a few of the things on the list that you think would be good choices, and let him pick one or two of the things on the list.
- Make a list before you go to the store. That way it won’t look so arbitrary when you pick what you want off the shelf, and your child doesn’t get his choice. As you shop, whenever you put something in your basket, check it off your list. Even if it is not on your list, check it off.
These strategies can greatly reduce the number of emotional storms, but their appearance is inevitable. What then?
- First, take a deep breath. I’ve been in a grocery store with my children having temper tantrums, as a pediatrician, with my patients in the checkout line. The first thing you feel is, “I just wish I could drop into the floor someplace so nobody would see me.”
- While you are taking a deep breath, consciously relax. Kids really play off your emotions. It’s so hard to relax in this situation, but just let your muscles go. The more uptight you are, the more energy is available for their tantrums. Kids thrive on attention, even negative attention.
- Some children will calm down if you pick them up and hold them.
- Each child is unique. One thing that often works very well is to try to voice to the child what he is going through. “You must really want to get this, don’t you?” Then he may melt and say, “Uh huh.”
- You will have to experiment with your child to see what it is that can help him understand that everything is okay, these bad feelings will pass, and that it’s all a normal part of growing up.
- Whatever you do, if your child had a temper tantrum to try to get something, don’t give it to him, even if you would have ordinarily done so. Choosing your child’s long-term gain over such dramatic short-term relief is part of what makes properly handling temper tantrums so heroic.
- Instead of giving your child what he wants, you might say, “Sorry, I would love to give you what you want, but because you had a temper tantrum, I can’t right now. Next time, let’s do that.” Stand by your child during this difficult time for both of you.
Last reviewed: December 12, 2008