Tantrums can be big, small, loud or quiet. They can be screaming anger explosions, breath-holding, breaking things, running away, crying, flailing limbs and more. They are typical and expected behaviour for children aged 1- 3 years. The occasional tantrum is usual in older children, but if your school-aged child is throwing tantrums regularly, without a diagnosed condition, this usually means that their social and emotional skills need a lot of development.

Toddlers throw tantrums because they don’t have the words to express their emotions, they are testing out their growing independence and they are learning that the way they behave influences how other people react to them.

Older children throw tantrums because they haven’t yet learned more appropriate ways of expressing themselves, or they know that throwing a tantrum will eventually get them what they want. Perhaps your child even mimics the way you behave.

How to make tantrums less likely:

  • Manage stress, hunger, tiredness and overstimulation. Children who live in a predictable routine with clear behavioural expectations are less likely to tantrum.
  • Identify the tantrum triggers. If your child throws a tantrum at the checkout, talk with them about this beforehand, feed them before going, give them a job to do like unloading the trolley, help to engage them in conversation with the cashier and or politely accept the receipt.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings by saying ‘that’s upsetting when your water spills in your lap.’ This can help them feel heard and gives them a chance to reset their emotions.
  • Don’t give in to your child. Use your judgement and act safely in all circumstances, but hold your ground when necessary so they don’t end up getting what they want. You’re in charge!
  • Stay calm and consistent. Speak steadily. Leave the room or turn your back (if safe to do so) so that you can take some breaths and calm yourself before continuing to wait the tantrum out.
  • Give your child plenty of encouragement, praise and positive attention throughout the day, so that they won’t seek your attention with negative behaviour

Make sure you don’t accidentally reward tantrums. If you say no to buying a chocolate, but then you end up buying it, this rewards the tantrum and teaches your child that they get what they want when they scream and carry on. Shouting back or pleading with your child can also be a reward in that the child gets plenty of attention from you.

Developing a strategy for tantrums

  • In a calm, quiet moment, create a plan for what you will and won’t do during your child’s next tantrum. Talk about it with your spouse, partner and other carers so that you are all on the same page
  • Accept that change in behaviour is unlikely to happen instantly. You will have to stick at it while your child develops the self-regulation to better deal with their emotions
  • If other people give you dirty looks, try to ignore them. It’s likely that they have never had children before, or it’s been so long since their children were little that they have forgotten what it’s like
  • Remember that all children have tantrums. Try not to compare yourself to other parents, instead focus your attention on how you proactively deal with your child’s tantrums.

If regular tantrums persist into schooling years, you may find it very beneficial to seek help from friends who have had little kids too, your child’s teacher, a school counsellor or doctor. These people may be able to help you set clear expectations or develop strategies that work for you and your child so that they can better manage their own behaviour in an age-appropriate way.

Mrs Hayley Burns / Junior School Learning Support Coordinator