Behaviour

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Behaviour

Coping with tantrums

Tantrums can be exhausting – for you and your child – but there are ways to understand and deal with what’s going on.

Tantrums are emotional outbursts your toddler may use to show you that they want or need something. They can be about expressing disappointment or upset, or disrupting a threatening situation. They can even be about getting attention from you – you may notice your toddler checking to see if you’re looking at them before continuing a tantrum.

Diffusing tantrums

  • Set expectations and incentives for good behaviour. So, if your child enjoys collecting stickers, say they can have one at the end of each aisle if they stay next to the trolley while you do the shopping.
  • Get to know your child’s triggers (such as boredom, hunger or frustration) and tackle them before they cause a tantrum.
  • Agree a signal your child can use to show you they’re feeling overwhelmed. You can then step in and talk them through a calming routine (counting, breathing or visualisation exercises). Practice these kinds of self-regulating skills at home, too.
  • Children often get argumentative when they feel they never get their own way, so practice compromise when you can, or consider what they’re asking before automatically saying no.

Handling a full-blown tantrum

  1. Try to stay calm. Your child will be looking to you to help them deal with their feelings, so you’ll need to model appropriate responses.
  2. If your child becomes aggressive or unreasonable, ensure they’re safe from harm before moving away from the situation. Stay in the room so your child knows you’re there and ready to comfort them once the tantrum is over: turning your body away is enough.
  3. If your child isn’t too distraught, try to distract them with a toy or game.
  4. Clear things out of the way so they can’t get broken or cause injury.
  5. Some children like a gentle hand on their back or to be held, while others won’t want to be touched. Go with what’s right for you and your child.
  6. Say and show you understand how they’re feeling, don’t feel you have to cave-in to demands: be consistent and remain calm.
  7. You may need to just sit the tantrum out: just stay close at hand for a cuddle when they’re ready.
  8. If you’re in public, just handle the tantrum as you would at home and ignore judgemental comments. Most people understand what you’re going through, and will have been through the same experiences with their own children.

Want more advice or support?

You can talk via online chat to our family support workers and get advice specific to your situation and your family.

Visit www.actionforchildren.org.uk/talk

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