Q&A: Temper Tantrums… What to Do?


Temper tantrums! Remember them? Experiencing them for the first time? What works/worked for you when your little angel screams like a little banshee, holds her breath until blue, pulls his hair out, falls to the floor wildly kicking little legs into the air … in the middle of the grocery store?

  • Swansea Benham Bleicher writes, “I highly recommend Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter.”
  • Julie Gouldman Russell writes, “The best advice that I received, even though it sounds a bit weird, is to think of yourself as a slot machine. If they do a behavior (pulling the handle) and the action from you comes up that they want, even if it is only once – in their mind if they do that action again there is a chance that you will do the behavior again. (if the scream at the grocery store and you buy them candy to help settle them down – there is no reason for them to think that if they scream again that you won’t buy them candy again. It doesn’t always come up candy – but there is a chance…) It was good advice for me to think about my reactions and not always take the “easy” way out of a difficult situation.”
  • Sally Campbell Galman writes, “I’m lucky, mine only seem to flip out at home. Then we send them to the “pillows” – meaning, go somewhere soft and scream it out while Mommy ignores you. Not pretty.”
  • Karen Bayne writes, “I like “to the pillows” – that’s pretty sweet & wise. My kids pitched a few big ones at the store, but not many. I think with each kid I left a full cart of groceries in the store with my deepest apologies once each. That seemed to cure the worst of it (wish I had something as successful for whining). My little ones seemed to need to know that I was willing to leave it all there to deal with their outburst. We usually drove straight home (with mommy not speaking) and headed right into bed. That was not the picture they wanted to appear on their slot machine!”
  • Shoshona King writes, “Am I bad? I actually kinda like it when I see other kids having temper tantrums, it reminds me that mine aren’t the only ones!”

[Image Credit: (ccl) Rafael Edwards]

2 Comments on “Q&A: Temper Tantrums… What to Do?

  1. It’s normal and even good to have Wants. How would you feel if you were reaching for a piece of desert at the table, and someone said no to you, without any reassurance or consolation? An explanation isn’t enough for a kid if their feelings are activated. But a child can hear a firm no, if they feel their natural Want is validated and supported. “Well, we can’t have/do that right now, but …[notice that was a firm no, but there is more to come, and I jump in with it promptly] …as soon as you are clipped into your car seat, I have something for you.”

    So here’s my trick lately: I get her attention with “I have something for you.” She knows I’ll make good on it, so it gets her attention easily. The first time I think I had to offer something pretty good, to shift the energy. Now that she’s come to trust that expression, her energy and expectations will shift before I’ve even told her what it is! This is great, because then I can offer her just about anything she’s willing to put her attention on. If I can’t think of anything at first, I chatter my way to thinking of something.

    Examples of concessions: Nuts and raisin I keep in the car, some object of interest within reach (yesterday I had a new pairs of shoes in the car after some seasonal shopping, but it can be anything, maybe a piece of junk mail could be made exciting with enough creativity–something surprising tucked inside?), a new song I want to sing to her, about a BOAT (or anything specific to grab her attention).

    Yes you are giving a concession, but really it’s changing the topic, as much as giving the concession. The main thing is you are not giving into the demand that you do not want to see becoming a habitual demand. And you are keeping the energy flowing, and avoiding it getting stuck building into bursting dam/tantrum!

    Oh, and there’s also a lot to be said for keeping her attention on something preventatively. My husband drives her to daycare, talking about the busses and trucks that go by, the whole way there. I’m more likely to give her a bag of snacks and start humming a tune to get her in the singing mood. It’s kind of like offering the concession, before the tantrum even starts. It’s maintenance, and I’d say necessary. Like Harvey Karp puts it in his Happiest Toddler on the Block video, you’ve got to “feed the meter.” They don’t need constant attention, but when they do you feed the meter to keep them happy.

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