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How should I manage my child's temper tantrums?

The best tactic for dealing with a tantrum may be the hardest: Acknowledge your child's anger or frustration, but don't get into a power struggle and escalate the emotions. Remember, tantrums usually pass quickly (although it may feel like the longest 10 minutes of your life), especially if she has other ways to communicate. Prevention is best, and you can often predict times when tantrums will take place, such as when your child is hungry or tired.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
No question that tantrums (especially the public ones) can be some of the most frustrating times we have as parents. Choose your battles. If your kid is known to throw a whopping tantrum if he doesn't get extra milk in his cereal, what does it hurt to give him some extra milk? Obviously, you don't want to give in too much or all the time, but it's important to let kids "win" sometimes. The easiest thing is to give in; to do anything to stop the insanity. Intellectually, we know that's not good, because it reinforces bad behavior. Practically speaking, it's much harder to stand your ground. Harder, but not impossible. These strategies should help:



  • Certainly, some parts of a child's temperament and personality are intrinsic, but much of our kids' behavior comes from modeling. Youngsters who see their parents lash out (at each other, at kids, at the Bears) are much more likely to lash out when they're angry. So the first step is to try to stay calm and cool, even when disciplining your children. His mirror neurons will kick in, and over the long run, you'll likely have far fewer public displays of destruction.
  • We believe that the best way to handle temper tantrums is through prevention. Learn to predict the times when your child may be more likely to toss his milk at the people at the next table. That way, you can either avoid public situations or perform a timely intervention. The truth is that tantrums are surprisingly predictable; they often happen when kids are overtired, over-stimulated, or hungry. (Same holds true for adults, right?) These explosive moments are typically preceded by a sullen or quiet period; the proverbial calm before the storm. Then when he tries to do something he can't do or is denied something, it's not long before a little whining morphs into a category 5 hurricane. If you do your best to keep your child well fed, relaxed, and well rested (quiet time can be as effective as naps), fewer of those storms will make landfall.
  • You shouldn't let a child's habit of throwing tantrums deter you from saying "no." Kids need boundaries for many reasons, and they need to know "no." However, you may find that it's more effective to avoid using the N word directly. Changing the way you tell your child that you're denying him something can be a good way to diffuse a volatile situation.
YOU: Raising Your Child: The Owner's Manual from First Breath to First Grade

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YOU: Raising Your Child: The Owner's Manual from First Breath to First Grade

There’s little doubt that parenting can be one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences you’ll ever have. But it can be plenty tough, too: Around the clock, you’re working to keep your...
The key to discipline is consistency. Remember, you are the parent. Temper tantrums can be challenging to deal with, but they can also be minimized. Here are some tips you can use to help stop (or at least decrease) the tantrums.

• Ignore the behavior. If you walk away or don’t pay attention, your child will likely stop.

• Time-out. Pick a location in your house where your child must sit or stand for a few minutes (1 minute per year of age) or until she calms down.

• Refocus your child on something else. I like to walk to the other side of the room, announce “Mommy is going to read a book,” and start reading out loud. My son usually quiets down and comes to join me.

• Provide praise when your child is behaving nicely. Catch her doing something good and reward her.

• Avoid situations that are likely to bring on a tantrum. If she always melts down on your second errand, limit each outing to one.

• Leave the location. If you are in a public place (eg, grocery store, restaurant) simply take her and leave. It’s hard to do when you’re in the checkout line or the middle of a meal, but it does work.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.