"Can I have a lollipop?"
This sentence, when uttered in a crowded supermarket, has the power to invoke a
racing heart and sweating palms in many parents.
The answer is no. The child raises her voice. The answer is still no. The child
drops to the floor. The answer turns into a discussion and the child's
voice increases in volume. The tears flow, the shrieks begin and, after a few
parental self-conscious glances at near by shoppers ? the answer
What makes the child in the next aisle accept 'no' with a shrug of the shoulders
or a nod? Why is your child the one who throws tantrums?
There is no easy answer to this question, but there are some patterns of
thinking and practical methods that you can use to break the cycle.
It is a simple, yet powerful fact. A child's behavior can be modified. Rewarding
a behavior will increase the occurrence of that behavior.
Ignoring it will decrease, and often eliminate the behavior.
A child who throws tantrums receives this message: If I yell loud enough and
long enough, I'll get what I want.
The message you want them to receive is: It doesn't matter how long or hard I
yell, I'm not going to get what I want.
The tantrums may be just developing. They may have been an unhappy part of
family life for months or even years. Whatever the situation, if
they're still happening, they're working.
So, how do you start?
Commit yourself. When you decide to eliminate tantrums from your life,
you are not fighting your child. You are in a battle for the good of your child.
You will create a more peaceful home environment and closer relationships within
your family. You will also teach your child self-discipline. This is a vital
skill when dealing with society. Teachers, bosses and most friends will not
crumble under the weight of your child's demands.
Tantrums won't disappear immediately. If your child is just beginning to learn
the components of a truly inspired tantrum, you may not have far to go. A few
unwavering sessions may be all that is needed. If, however, your child has been
honing his tantrum technique for months or even years, success may take a little
longer. Even so, with consistency and perseverance, it will work.
Identify the triggers. When do most tantrums occur? Are they sparked by
bedtime? Meal times? When shopping? While you are on the phone? Make a list and
be aware. Find ways to help your child succeed. If eating dinner is a problem,
give her tiny portions. If too much TV is a problem, offer more interesting
Clarify the rules to yourself. Before you enter a tantrum-triggering
zone, make sure that your rules are reasonable and consistent. There are no
compromises at this stage. If your child refuses to eat dinner but insists on
dessert, choose one phrase. "Dinner, then dessert." This way, when the begging
starts or questions are fired at you, you can respond with a simple, repetitive,
sanity-saving comment. No discussion is necessary.
Clarify the rules to your child. Before entering a situation that is
likely to provoke a tantrum, calmly and firmly explain what is expected of your
child. "You may watch this program. When it is over, the TV is turned off. Do
you agree?" If a tantrum occurs when the TV is turned off after the program,
your phrase can be, "We agreed, no more TV today."
Stay Calm. Easier said than done. Try to tune out. Try to ignore the
unwanted behavior by not responding or responding only with your practiced
phrase. A child will eventually realize that she's getting nowhere. She'll turn
up the heat. The cries may become screeches and dinner may be thrown across the
room (you may want to remove her plate before she gets to this stage). That's
OK. She's getting the message. If you do not react, she will realize. Her
tantrum isn't working.
Don't give up. This is imperative. If you usually give in after five
minutes and this time, you held out for ten, next time you're in for a longer
stint. In your child's mind, the tantrum still worked, she just had to work a
little harder. So will you.
Reward immediately. If you stick with it, eventually your child will see
that the tantrums no longer have any effect. As soon as you see the tiniest
improvement, offer a reward. This doesn't mean change your rules. If your child
screams for only two minutes instead of three and then agrees to turn off the
TV, don't reward her with more TV. You will be sending her a mixed message.
Reward her with a story, a walk or a hug. "You cried much less today than you
did last time. Good for you."
Taming tantrums is challenging and rewarding. Be gentle with yourself. There
will be setbacks and days when things seem worse. It can be difficult but it's
temporary. When your child's smile begins to shine through the haze of anger and
frustration, you will agree. The long-term benefits are worth it.
by Ann Harth 2005
our our behavior charts
designed specifically for tantrums!
Ann Harth is a freelance ghostwriter, manuscript assessor, copyeditor, and
published author. She has a BA (psychology) and has spent twelve years working
with children with special needs. She is the assistant fiction editor of
Moondance, a literary on-line magazine and a member of the creative writing
staff of Storydog, a website for children. Ann writes a regular column on
running a home business for the Writing4SuccessClub
website. Her columns can be viewed at
Additional information on Ann Harth's published work and freelance services can
be found on her website at