Tantrums! What to do?


Every day, parents are faced with the most varied situations with regard to their children's education. These situations create many doubts, even more than certainties. Most of these situations are specific to the child's development, but it is difficult to rehearse responses for each moment.


And all of a sudden, they cry, scream, yell, bite, kick, smack their feet, shoot with toys and… here's the tantrum. Calm down, the essential thing is not to lose control. As a rule, tantrums are caused by something that frustrates or saddens the child who, with crying or screaming, seeks to resolve the situation and to benefit from it, thus drawing all attention to him/herself, not controlling his/her anger and frustration.


It is normal for a child to have tantrums, they are exploring the world and discovering its limits. And above all, children still doesn't have mechanisms to deal with frustration and has difficulties in verbal language.


This is when parental intervention becomes important. It is necessary to teach children social rules, negotiation skills, problem solving, frustration tolerance and self-regulation, providing feelings of security and confidence necessary to adapt and demand the context in which they live.

Early childhood is an important time to test parents' patience, because although tantrums are considered normal, especially in preschool age, they can become major concerns in the future, leading to serious behavior problems. It is, then, necessary to teach the child to have control over him/herself, to dominate the fury and to control and limit its manifestation.


Tantrums and the development process

Childhood is the period of human development when the fastest and most important changes occur, so it is normal for the child to have tantrums, they are a part of development, a part where the child is exploring the world, discovering its limits. It is the stage when the child is acquiring autonomy and trying to dominate the environment.


A tantrum is the expression of a multiplicity of feelings and, to understand it, it is necessary to understand its relationship with these same feelings, such as fear, anxiety, frustration of not being able to have everything, anger, sadness.


The tantrums, fears and anxiety will later be overcome by maturity and growth. As children grow, they will have a better apprehension and understanding of social rules, the dichotomy of the ''I'' and the ''other'', the role of each person among others and society in general, and they will gain tolerance to frustration.


Don't forget that the child is fragile, so in many cases tantrums are a plea for help. As if these children don't want to behave this way, but do because it's the only way they can express themselves.


Tantrums are emotional episodes, brief but intense, characterized by being explosive, impulsive and beyond the control of emotion. These are the externalizations of emotions that, in addition to being quite intense, are mostly disorganized. These episodes can be understood as an emotional crisis, temporary, but it is still a crisis for the child. They feel that they cannot control their emotional impulses, they lose self-control and there is even a disrespect for behavioral norms, previously accepted by society. It is from this crisis that frustration and anger emerge, feelings that the child cannot control.


What are the children's reactions during a tantrum?

Several authors and psychologists describe behaviors such as screaming, biting, kicking, throwing things around, slamming feet, throwing oneself to the ground, kicking, running away, crying, and pushing as a tantrum.


Crying is the most characteristic verbal expression of tantrums. Crying is important for the internalization process and helps the child reduce distress. Crying helps a child to control frustration and can lessen future violent outbursts, which many children have in a moment of anger, such as hitting or biting.


So we can distinguish tantrums in two ways: physical, like throwing yourself to the ground, and verbal, like crying and screaming. Note that there is rarely verbal violence, which explains the reduced expressive language.


Parents' reaction during a tantrum

When faced with the first tantrum, parents have to respond calmly but with absolute determination. They have to talk to the child, not hit him/her, but be adamant. Explain to them the reasons why their desire is not satisfied. Children from an early age must internalize that tantrums do not lead to anything. Occasionally, ignoring them can be effective in the long run.

This performance must be the same, regardless of the context, that is, the position of the parents must be the same whether they are at home, in the supermarket or at a party full of people. If we ignore it, the behavior will tend to reduce.


When a tantrum breaks out, it's essential not to lose control - either of yourself or the situation. For example, a tantrum in a public place: parents in this situation have to remain calm, move the child away and let the child calm down. Attention: reprimanding, punishing, giving long sermons, threatening, blackmailing, promising, ridiculing, yelling, comparing with siblings are strategies that may work in the short term, but will not work in the long term.


The children themselves are often frightened by their tantrum, by that state of complete madness. And in these situations, pampering and comforting are not signs of weakness, giving up, or bad manners, but rather a sign of love and compassion for those who are scared. But this comfort should not be understood as a concession. Do not give in to a tantrum in any situation, and learn to say no firmly.


Therefore, it is necessary to remain calm during a tantrum, not to respond emotionally either by words or gestures, looks or body rigidity. Pick up the child, if only to prevent him from hurting himself, take him to a place where he can talk freely, tell him that you like him/her, but explain to him/her that this behavior is not correct, give him/her time to calm her/himself down, even if you have to find strategies to count up to a certain number and, also very important, to give the child a reason, whenever a tantrum happens, explaining that despite being right, the child cannot react like that.


But do all tantrums deserve attention? No, there are tantrums that can be ignored, not only because they are 'small' tantrums, but with the aim of extinguishing them, because ignoring a tantrum can prevent their proliferation.


And after all, in which situations are tantrums more frequent? We can list several situations, including mealtime, times when they are in public, with lots of people and a lot of confusion, when they are sleepy, when they are hungry, when they are tired, when they want attention and when they want something and don't understand why you don't give it to them.






Signs to look out for:

Although tantrums are considered normal in children's development, there are troubling signs that should prompt parents to seek help:


  • when tantrums increase in frequency, duration or intensity, making it impossible to control them;

  • when the child hurts himself or others;

  • when the child destroys toys or other objects;

  • when tantrums occur at school

  • when parents react aggressively to their children's tantrums.



In a nutshell:


  1. They must be respected as the child's need for sleep and hunger.

  2. Toys and games should be appropriate for their age so as not to cause frustration.

  3. Whenever possible, the child should be given an opportunity to choose, such as choosing clothes or shoes or deciding whether to eat one food or another.

  4. Don't lose control, stay calm, steady and secure. Be an example if you want your child to remain calm - screaming will only make him/her more anxious and angry.

  5. Put yourself at the child's level, so your child doesn't feel intimidated.

  6. Define your behaviors, not punishments.