We Are Both Right

Best Of (the Worst Of): Reasons Kids Throw Tantrums

child screaming

Look familiar? There are lots of reasons a child has a tantrum, but we really do need to start working on a catch-all solution. Quickly. ©Ginger Garvey/stock.xchng

SAAAAAN-DAAAAALS! The battle cry heard ’round the world. It was the beginning of another tantrum — and as usual it was about clothes.

So what that the temperature had dipped back down below 50 and it was windy and we were about to spend five hours outside on a dusty, clay-caked field for a Little League double-header. Sandals seemed pretty reasonable (and fashionable) in a four-year-old’s mind. Mom’s thoughts? Not so much. Commence tantrum.

You know the scene. And once a child gets into that mode – they’re as locked in as Maverick and Goose in Top Gun. Hugs, talking quietly, ignoring, yelling, nothing seems to work.

The one thing we have realized after years of experience is that sometimes prevention is the best medicine. If you know your child’s triggers, there are some things you can do to ward off the tantrums or at least make them less frequent or shorter in length.

It didn’t take us long at We Are Both Right to come up with the most tantrum-inducing scenarios. What did take a while was coming up with some solutions that didn’t involve earplugs or a passport and a one-way ticket for mommy to a deserted island.

Obviously, episodes like getting dressed in the morning and leaving friends’ houses are pretty much inevitable, so at some point you have to deal. But we’re thinking with these tricks, it might make life with a tantrum-thrower a little easier.

Problem/Solution

Choosing an outfit in the morning that doesn’t entail velvet in June or white satin sleeveless dresses on tie-die day in preschool in February. Take some time each night and turn this into a fun activity. Either watch the local weather forecast together on TV or pull it up on the web. Ask your child to interpret the  symbols, whether it’s partly cloudy, sunny, rainy or snowy. Explain the temperature and talk about what it will feel like on your skin. Give them the chance to be a weather reporter and give a little report to the family on what it would be best to wear the next day (i.e. pants and heavy sweaters, umbrella and raincoats, tank top and shorts, etc.) Then have your child pick an outfit to match the weather (and hope the weatherman wasn’t wrong). It will make your child feel like she has more control of the situation and made the decision herself based on her own conclusions.

Wanting something at the store and mean mommy won’t buy it. Talk about your shopping list ahead of time and ask them to check off things as they go in the cart. Explain that you have just enough money to buy these things, and anything they see and want, you have to think about adding to the list next time. If this doesn’t work, find a willing babysitter and go shopping by yourself (my solution for a few months when my kids were each around 30 months old).

Washing hands before and after dinner (the horror). Buy colored soap, peach-scented soap, hand them a wipe to do the job themselves. If that doesn’t work, threaten an earlier bath (and bed) time. Or do a science experiment on germs and let them see what dirty hands look like under a black light. It worked in our house!

Having to leave home to go someplace. Bring along the toy or thing that has them so attached to home in the first place. Tell them they will have so much fun when they get there. And then when they do, see below.

Having to leave someplace to go home. Promise that there are so many fun things to do at home, too. Tell your child that he can call his friend on the phone as soon as you get home. Have a snack stash in the car to lure her in. And then just make a quick break, because prolonged goodbyes never make it better.

Going to the supermarket (admittedly this makes me want to tantrum too). Bring a cart-worthy toy, or head to the book aisle in the supermarket and pick up a new book for your child to thumb through. It doesn’t necessarily have to come home with you, as you exchange it for a loaf of bread on the shelf. If your child knows colors, letters or shapes, play a treasure hunt game with them as you make your way through the store. Promise a special treat as you leave if they make it through tantrum-free.

Home improvement shopping where tantrumy child wants to run freely through glass tile displays on his way to jump into the whirlpool bathtub on display. Been there. The only solution is to leave and come back when you can actually form a clear thought about the tile that will be on your floor, well, forever.

Meal battles (think ice pops for breakfast). Recite a menu before the tantrum-prone child gets to declare his wishes. “Today, we have waffles, yogurt and cereal. Which would you like to start with?” And then ask another question immediately after — a distraction technique that I like to use. “And should we use your blue or yellow plate?” That way both answers come together and the child doesn’t think much about either one.

Best case scenario: Sometimes the tantrum isn’t full-blown and you will see a child who gets miffed and goes into meltdown mode, but storms off to a quiet space on her own, maybe even with a noisy door slam on the way out. Give it 10-15 minutes and chances are a centered, calm child will emerge like nothing ever happened.

So let us know where you are at with tantrums — do they happen once a week, once a month, or every day in your home? What are your best tips for keeping tantrums at bay? We’re listening, just don’t mind the screaming in the next room.