What I’ve Learned from Tantrums by Kelly E. Peters, Child Therapist

Tantrums can be difficult for both caregiver and child. They are stressful, upsetting and difficult to deal with. They can also be a learning experience.

Tantrums are at their core, an expression of emotion. This emotion may be extreme and inappropriate, but the person having the tantrum is doing the best they can. They may be overwhelmed, tired, angry, frustrated, not getting what they want, and trying to do something to change the way they feel. Here's where the learning comes in to play.

Tantrums can teach young people about how to deal with emotions. In order to do this, they need to know that although this is one method of expression, it is not an effective method to change their situation. You can help this learning along by stating just that. "I can't understand you when you are screaming" -or try-"I really want to help, but I can't help you until you are calm". This teaches young people that you care for them and want to help them, but if they want things to change, they have to control their emotions and express their desires.

Everyone has probably heard (and rolled their eyes at the idea) that all you do during a tantrum is ignore it. This is only half-true. In order to ignore effectively, you need to stay calm and be okay with what is happening. It’s hard to be okay while hearing your child scream, yell, hit, and cry tugs at your own emotions and nerves. This is where the learning comes in for you.

Find a way to stay calm. Meditate, refocus your attention, and get your inner-self okay with what is going on. It's okay for young people to cry. It's okay for them to feel angry. It's okay for them to feel frustrated. It's their choice to tantrum. What you have to be okay with is, showing them that this choice will not cause you to give in.

When a young person decides that throwing a doozy of a tantrum may just help, you have to show them that what this choice does is stop everything. Don't offer a toy to console them. Don't try to distract them. If possible, stay in the room, away from kicking and screaming,and just sit and wait it out. If you're out and about find an isolated corner, go back to the car- anything which will eliminate the negative attention factor, and wait it out. This is (obviously) MUCH easier said than done.

It can be tempting when trying to move quickly through an errand to give in, just this once, to make the moment go easier. And sometimes, it may be all you can do. Keep in mind, that this 10 (20, 45+....) minutes now may be awful, but the more often you give in, the more often it will likely happen in the future. When you can find a good spot, sit, find a book, find a toy- entertain yourself. Do not engage. If the child tries to engage you while still screaming- reinforce the "I can't understand what you need. If you can get calm I will help".

Once your child works his/her way through the emotion, CELEBRATE! "I'm so glad you got yourself together" - now is the time to redirect. Find a toy, read a book, spend time showing them how much better it is when they can explain what they need to you. They can learn, if consistently given the feedback that sometimes they can feel strongly about something, but to fix the situation they first have to calm down to find a way to feel better. Staying calm will help you to cope too. Stay strong. Stay calm. You can do it!