Child Meltdowns: Do this, not that

Temper tantrums come in all shapes and forms, but their causes can generally be traced back to two occurrences: a child not getting what they want, or inability to communicate (or a combination of both). What has the biggest effect in decreasing problem behaviors? The behavior of the adult. Your reaction and actions in the face of the situation can either encourage or discourage future tantrums.


Here are some tips for navigating these behaviors:

Don’t do this

Don’t raise your voice, and try not to betray any emotion. There are two reasons for this. 1. Any type of reaction from you can be reinforcing to the child. 2. You want to model the behavior and demeanor you expect from the child in the future.

Don’t try to talk to the child during a tantrum. Chances are, the child isn’t listening, and your attention is reinforcing the behavior.

Don’t give the child what he wants in order to get the tantrum to stop. This teaches the child that bad behavior will get him what he wants.

“Temper tantrums can generally be traced back to two occurrences: a child not getting what they want, or inability to communicate (or a combination of both).”

 

Do this instead

Do remain calm and keep your voice/expression neutral.

If the child is in public or in an unsafe environment, do try to move them to a private/safe environment to cool down.

Do give the child time to self-calm and regain control.

Do talk to the child as soon as he/she is exhibiting appropriate behavior. This teaches the child that you will not indulge tantrums and that only appropriate behavior will be given attention.

If the cause of the tantrum was the child not getting what she wanted, offer alternatives that she can have/do.

If the cause of the tantrum was inability to communicate, give the child guidance on expressing themselves. If the child is verbal, say “Tell me how you felt” or “Tell me what happened.” If the child has limited verbal skills, ask them to show you. Or, validate the child’s feelings while modeling the words they can use. For example, “You feel mad because your brother took your toy.”

Do discuss appropriate behavior for the future. For example, “It is okay to feel angry. It is not okay to scream and kick. What do you think you should do next time you feel angry?”