As kids are growing and learning to communicate they may experience temper tantrums, and these tantrums, or behavioral outbursts, are quite common in young children. Most of the time, when a child is having a tantrum, it is because they are having a hard time communicating what they need and what they are feeling. Big emotions, such as feeling mad, frustrated, or sad can can feel overpowering and spill out as a tantrum that may look like:
Hitting others or themselves
If your child is having a hard time calming down from a tantrum and it‘s lasting hours or even the whole day, here are a few tips to help make those tantrums more manageable in the moment and prevent tantrums from occurring.
Redirecting Temper Tantrums
One of the most helpful things that parents can do when a tantrum is occurring is redirect, especially if you notice your child's emotion escalating. Redirection is a form of distraction and the child’s attention is drawn towards a more appropriate behavior. For example, if your child pushes another child and begins to get upset, you can redirect their attention by verbally intervening or tapping your child on the shoulder. This action breaks into the behavior that is occurring. You would then model a more appropriate behavior like saying, “excuse me” and guiding your child to another area and then give your child a chance to repeat the phrase. Modeling and repetition allows your child to practice the appropriate behavior. Another opportunity to use redirection is with biting. If you notice your toddler biting objects and becoming increasingly aggressive you can redirect their behavior from biting something inappropriate and offer something appropriate, "here, you can bite on this teething toy."
It's not uncommon for parents to focus on that behavior that they want their child to stop, rather than focusing on that behavior that they actually want their child to do. Positive reinforcement occurs when you provide your child with a reward or praise to encourage them to continue a behavior that you would like to see. The praise or reward should be right after the desired behavior. When this is done quickly, your child will associate the positive reinforcement with the actual behavior, making it more likely that your child will repeat the rewarded behavior. An example of this would be if you your child is playing and sharing their toys nicely with their sibling. If this is a behavior you would like them to continue, you could provide positive reinforcement by praising your child for playing nicely with their sibling ("I see you shared your legos with your sister, that was so nice of you!") as opposed to waiting for your child to have a hard time and then reinforcing the negative behavior with attention ("stop taking the legos from your sister").
Help Increase Communication of Needs & Feelings
When kids, especially younger kids, have a hard time communicating their needs and emotions through words, using pictures can help to reduce frustration of being misunderstood or being unable to communicate. Parents can also help increase communication through modeling. With modeling, the parent would intentionally show their child what an ideal behavior looks like. For example, if a parent would like for their child to speak in a calm voice, the parent can model this behavior by speaking calmly to their child, especially when frustrated. Additionally, parents can repeat the same words over and over agin, also known as scripting. One of the most common scripting phrases is parents stating “please” and “thank you” to their child. Typically overtime, the child will use these phrases as appropriate responses due to the scripting from the parents.
Extinction occurs when you remove any type of reinforcement for a specific behavior that you want to stop. For example, when parents stop giving in (reinforce) to a tantrum (behavior), there will be fewer tantrums and over time the tantrums will stop altogether, or become "extinct". Often, problem behaviors are maintained because they are being reinforced. For example, if a child is removed from the classroom and placed in "time out" after being defiant about completing work, they may find that the removal of the work is reinforcing, although it was intended to be a consequence. To help extinguish or remove a problem behavior, it must be paired with a lack of reinforcement. With a lack of reinforcement, a child will learn overtime that the behavior fails to get them what they want.
In addition to the skills discussed above, another key factor in helping your child to regulate their emotions is having your child engage in some form of exercise. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention recommends that children above age 6 get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise at least 3 days per week. Check out their website for specific examples of types of exercise based on age group.
Some benefits of exercise include:
Increasing your child’s feelings of happiness
Creating a sense of calm that can help your child focus
Reducing sensations of pain
Improving your child’s ability to sleep
Encouraging your child to use social and verbal skills
Improving your child’s memory
Helping your child improve fine motor skills
When To Seek Additional Support
Parents if you are noticing that your child’s tantrums/behavioral outbursts are lasting hours or even days and you are having a difficult time implementing some of the strategies listed above, it could be beneficial to look into therapy support. A therapist can help your you and your child learn increase emotion identification skills, open communication, and strategies to regulate emotional outbursts. Therapy can be a safe space to practice skills to manage and reduce behavioral problems and to help your child communicate their feelings.
At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialized in assisting children and their parents with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation.