Temper tantrums represent a form of coping for small children; therefore it is important for parents and caregivers to respond properly to these emotional outbursts. Proper responses teach children positive ways to react to their emotions, in which they can continue to develop throughout their lives.
There are several common reactions to tantrums that can create negative outcomes in the child’s development. Giving in to the tantrum or behavior teaches the child that acting out gets them what they want. This may also encourage a child to manipulate others to get their way as they grow older.
Ignoring the episode is a good way to end a tantrum, but if not followed-up properly, it can harm a child’s self-esteem. Make it clear that the tantrum was unacceptable, but also praise them when they behave well, to make the contrast clear.
Also, punishing a child for the emotions he feels during a temper tantrum can make them feel wrong or bad for having those feelings. Instead, set the stage for future, positive ways of coping to avoid these strong emotions.
Temper tantrums are stressful for parents and caregivers, and it’s easy to forget how stressful the tantrum is for the child as well. Use the tantrum as an opportunity to teach the child how to handle stress, such as labeling the emotions they are feeling. This enables children to put words to their feelings, which helps develop their emotion regulation and interpersonal skills that they will need later in life.
Other simple coping skills, such as counting to five or taking deep breaths, can also teach children positive ways to respond and calm down when experiencing these strong emotions.
If a parent or caregiver is having trouble preventing or properly dealing with their child’s temper tantrums, they should discuss the situation with the child’s doctor to receive proper guidance and care. Cone Health has an exceptional network of primary care physicians, pediatricians, behavioral health specialists and other related healthcare providers dedicated to caring for children in the community during their important developmental years.
Regina Alexander is a licensed counselor at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital, specializing in substance abuse counseling. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Greensboro College in 2002, and earned a Master of Social Work Degree from the joint program at University of North Carolina Greensboro and North Carolina A&T University in 2007.