At the end of April I wrote this article for a client asking for an article on “Parenting Difficult Children” This was a 1,300-word article with a custom header image. I completed within 24 hours for the client.
I love to write about parenting, personal finance, and dinner-table politics. I also specialize in creative writing, copywriting, and other SEO/sales writing.
Zac Pinkerton, 2019
(Satisfaction NOT guaranteed)
Our oldest, Landon (7), has been throwing progressively worse fits as the school year has progressed. While you can shame Ashley and I for the root cause of said tantrums (too much screen time as a baby; too much attention; not enough attention; not enough stimulation; not enough socialization; mimicking our own bad tempers; etc.) we care less about the root cause right now and more about the freaking SOLUTION.
Sure – Landon’s our first, so his upbringing was far from spectacular. He’s probably had more head bumps, scrapes, stair-falls, and over-indulgences than any of our other kids (let’s not forget the night he found out how to watch Curious George on the iPad and we found him cracked out in the hallway at 4:30am 🤦🏻♂️). But let’s not re-hash the past, shall we? Now is time for action! Below is my researched list of 10 Tantrum Tamers (hopefully they work):
1. Understand and empathize with your child
Yeah – you’ve heard it before. But, if you do this right – it helps. From toddler-to-teenager, our kids are pumped full of hormones and their bodies are ever-changing. All of our kids are constantly experiencing new, BIG, emotions which they have never experienced – and they certainly have no idea how to deal with. This is scary!
2. What gets rewarded, gets repeated
But, you’re thinking : OF COURSE you’re supposed to reward good behavior! Duh! But what am I supposed to do during this epic, hellacious fit? Think about it. What are they getting out of this fit? Your attention? Candy? A show? Whatever they are really aiming for is what you should not give them until they ask for it in a developmentally appropriate way. The hard part is staying calm long enough to think and figure out what it is they’re after.
3. Follow through on your “threats”
I’m not going to get into all the good vs. evil when it comes to discipline. All I’m going to say here is: follow through with whatever it is you have threatened. Not only is this vital to changing behavior on a lasting basis, but is most important in helping to reinforce the good behavior that your child may be throwing a fit about. Is she writhing in the floor like a demon spawn because you asked her to pick up the crayons? At the end of the tantrum, still make her pick up the crayons. This is teaching life-long lessons on how to correctly deal with authority and her frustration.
4. Use the diversion tactic
Heard this one before? Probably. But I have to include it. This one almost always works for our kids. Not working for you? You’re probably not doing it right. (Full disclosure: I don’t do it right 90% of the time either.) The key here is to find the right activity. And! Present it in the right way. You could say, out of frustration: “Go color something!” Or, calmly and in a mild tone: “Let’s go to the table and get out your crayons. Why don’t you draw me a picture of what’s upsetting you?” It sounds like some b.s. but I swear to god I just used this line on Olivia (5) earlier today. (Full disclosure part 2: She melted down about something else later and I had to come up with a different diversion, which included Alexa and Taylor Swift music).
I’ll admit – I don’t think I have ever had the patience for this one. Maybe I’ll try? Who knows. A lot of articles & books have recommended starting the conversation with a hug and reminding your child that you love them, and that’s where your direction/discipline is coming from. It makes sense. While I don’t use this tactic, I do, however, almost always finish any discipline with a hug and an “I love you”.
6. Silent treatment
Another common recommendation is to simply “ignore” the tantrum/unacceptable behavior. This one most definitely does NOT work for our school-age children (Olivia, 5, and Landon, 7) but works pretty well with Ava (4) and Levi (1). As long as I legitimately pay no attention to the unacceptable behavior, they give it up in 1-3 minutes and move on to something more constructive.
7. Offer food & rest
Yes – this works on the wife, too 😉. Just like adults, our kids get “hangry”. They also get grumpy when tired. It’s important to remember, though, that our kids: 1. don’t know how to deal with these feelings like we do and, 2. they feel these feelings a lot BIGGER than we do. So, try to be patient. Understand what they’re really feeling. Start with a healthy snack or a nap with some relaxing sounds. It might just be the problem.
8. Change the scenery
I saw this tactic come up a lot, but I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it. (Let me know if it works for you!) this tactic suggests removing your child from the scene of the tantrum. For instance – throwing a fit in the toy aisle? Go to the gardening aisle (or something else he/she may be interested in). Upset about what’s on (or not on) the tv? “Let’s go to the laundry room… I need your help folding laundry.” Okay – so this might work some of the time. Piece of cake for us dads who work most of the time and only have to deal with their crap for a couple hours; or, all of our shopping trips include another adult. The reason I don’t agree here is because most parents don’t have that luxury the majority of the time. Where is mommy supposed to take her screaming first grader who’s throwing a fit in the produce section when you only have, like, 15 minutes to get what you need for dinner and get back to the rec center in time to pick sister up from soccer practice? You see my dilemma.
9. Encourage constructive outlets
As I stated earlier: “what gets rewarded, gets repeated”. This time I’m focusing on the positive. One of my biggest takeaways from parenting books I’ve been reading lately is that bad behavior should be viewed as an opportunity to teach you child how to deal with stress and “big” emotions. You are now setting up your child for how he or she will respond to emotions and stress when it really matters in their adult life. Spanking teaches your child to not get caught. Time out teaches your child to seclude himself when times get tough. Yelling and lecturing will turn your child off and he or she won’t even get the message. So, what the hell are you actually supposed to do? Use soft words and gently guide your child to a constructive behavior – go outside, draw a picture, tell me a story of what you’re feeling, look through this magazine/cookbook and tell me what you would like to try for dinner. For Other ideas for constructive activities you can check out my post.
10. Don’t say “calm down”
Yes – this is a very anticlimactic #10 and, yes – this one will also work on the wife. But I can’t finish this list without adding it to the list. I still inevitably say “calm down” (both to my wife & the kids) in 1 out of every 10 arguments without thinking. But, whenever possible, don’t say it. Resist the urge. It will. Not. Work.
Please leave me some thoughts on what you do to calm down your children at different ages. Myself and any readers I’m sure are hungry for your expertise.