How to handle tantrum and meltdown in kids

How to handle tantrum in kids | pic credit - Stephen Andrews/Pexel
Oh-Oh!! Here comes the Tantrum!!

We see our kids blow up this storm now and then. From wailing their lungs out to swearing off food or just running away. A Tantrum is just that, a basic explosion of anger and frustration when your child loses it!! These out bursts are most common in children between the ages of one and four, because at this age they do not comprehend their emotion very well. It may happen for older kids as well but usually they tend to grow out of it once they move on to the schooling phase. But, some events at school/playground may trigger it for otherwise calm kids.

Understanding a Tantrum

Priyanka, a mom of two kids 5 years and 3 years olds was super excited for her daughter’s 3rd birthday party. It was first such event post covid and she wanted to make it memorable for her kids and as well as for guests. Her friend had bought a super cute stuffed penguin for the birthday girl and she also brought a sketch book for the elder one because he loved coloring. And while she was appreciating the thoughtfulness of her friend, a fight broke between the two. Her son too wanted the penguin. You can imagine the rest! What started with a screaming, shouting, flying toys and “you care for her more than me” dialogues, ended in a major meltdown. And an embarrassed Priyanka who had spent a month’s time in planning for the event felt completely lost. She couldn’t understand why it had happened and certainly she had not planned for such situation.

What is temper tantrum?

Why do kids throw tantrum?

To a growing child, a lot of emotions they face are confusing. For instance, as an adult, you associate feeling cold with feeling the chill on your skin. The grumble in your stomach with hunger and the feeling of restlessness with discomfort with something your wearing or your current situation. However, when it comes to children, most of these feelings are foreign to them. It is only as they grow, they learn to name the discomfort they feel. Until then, they express all these discomforts in the ways that annoy adults and we term it singularly as tantrum, which actually has a better name such as hunger, tiredness, sibling rivalry etc.

So, next time when your child throw tantrum, first ask these basic questions to yourself and your kids.

  • Are they hungry or thirsty?
  • Are they feeling hot or cold?
  • Are they feeling comfortable in their dress? Do they want something comfortable to wear?
  • Are they Tired/sleepy?
  • Are they frustrated at something not related to present context such as bullying at school or playground?
  • Is sibling rivalry the reason of the frustration?
  • Is your attention diverted to something or someone else, when kid was asking for it?
  • Do they like something and want it?
  • Do they want to avoid cleaning up, washing their hands, or just going to bed?
  • Are they missing someone, like grandparents?

While the answers to these questions may not exactly be logical, the answers to most outbursts are in these primary questions. Find the answer and you have your key to dealing with your kid’s tantrum. Over time you learn to add in good strategies that will help you in handling such situation. Handling a kid’s tantrum is not easy but patience is the key.

How to handle tantrum in kids

Dealing with a tantrum can be tricky. And more often than not, it’s the adult who worsen the situation as trying to control it by threatening means. There is no sure shot mantra or shortcut to this problem at all. It is a learning process for you to understand and communicate better with your kid. It is also a learning process for the kid how to cope with the emotions they feel. Some of the things you can do to soothe your child are:

  1. Stay calm, acknowledge, and validate their behavior, let them know they have your attention.
  2. Handle aggressive behaviour immediately and remove them from harm’s way.
  3. Keep your child on a schedule or routine. This ensures your kid is getting enough sleep and is eating at set intervals. It also ensures you are spending regular time with them.
  4. Each child has their own reasons for tantrums. Identifying their triggers may help you avoid a tantrum and let’s you prepare a better plan to tackle the future ones.
  5. In case you are dealing with a toddler, pick them up and comfort them, identify the emotion and accordingly support your child.
  6. In case of little older kids, help the child understand the emotion by prompting them to vent about the discomfort. In case your child continues to stay agitated, allow your child space to calm down. Ignore the tantrum but stick around and be there in case at any point your kid needs to be comforted.
  7. Once calm, sit with your child and help them label the emotions. Make them speak on points like why they felt frustrated, what made them feel angry etc., This way you ensure you are establishing a safe space between you and your child.
  8. Practise deep breathing relaxation tactics together with your older child. Explain to them when this exercise will be useful. This will help them gain control of their emotions in the long run.

Dealing with a temper tantrum in public places

Yes, we all have been there! Every parent has had to deal with their share of public tantrums be it at a supermarket, a family function, a religious gathering or a movie theatre. These tantrums seem even more frustrating to deal with as they come with fair share of staring, judgemental comments and unsolicited advice.

Rahul & Roopa, a typical new generation parents who stay in Bangalore with their 6 year old daughter Ria. Both of them work during the day and have their weekends planned around Ria’s schedule. While they describe Riya to be a very calm and peaceful child now, they have had their fair share of (mis)handling Ria’s tantrum when she was younger. At one of point of time, they dreaded to attend any public event. While initially they fumbled with dealing with the crying and hair pulling, and crazy meltdowns, they gradually started to accept this as a normal growing up issue and tried to find a solution. This included some changes in daily/weekly routine, sometimes little planning ahead and more involvement from both the parents. Now, every Sunday she gets to choose her favourite lunch which they would then make together or have it outside.

Now, they always carry a bag of toys and knick-knacks that they can use to divert her mind with. While shopping sometimes they play simple games like “What color do you see?” or “I spy”. In family events, they let her play independently with other kids as long as elder kids watch out for the younger lot. When it is a tantrum about buying something unnecessarily, and she isn’t accepting a ‘No’, they put the item in cart but don’t bill it. Back at home, there are various distractions to calm down kids. Now, like most of the kids of her age, she still throws tantrum sometimes, but her parents know it is just because either she is hungry or tired.

Plan your strategies to handle such situation over the time. To start with, here are the 5 ways to manage kid’s tantrum in public places
  1. Be prepared with your kid’s favourite toys or distractions.
  2. Give them the sense that they (kids) are your happy helpers. Distract them with tasks they can do for you. It could be that you give them some crayons and a notebook and ask them to draw something for you or help you carry one item of the grocery to the counter.
  3. Move away from the gathering, maybe take a walk with your kid. Find a quiet place where you can take the time to acknowledge your kid’s emotion and speak to them calmly.
  4. Choose your battles when negotiating with your tiny terrorist. Do not give in and buy them that over pricing/useless toy they seem to be so adamantly demanding. This could affect their behaviour in the long run. Instead, maybe bribe them with the something you already intended to buy for them.
  5. Most important of all, Stay calm! Do not panic or do not raise your voice when your child cries. The harsher you react, the harder it would be to calm your child down.
5 ways to handle kid’s tantrum in public places

Managing your own feelings when dealing with Tantrums

A tantrum unsettles everyone. It brings out a lot of anger and frustration, especially, when you child refuses to listen to you. Hence it is of absolute importance that you prepare yourself for this battle.

Ved, now a seven years old intelligent yet hyperactive and impulsive kid has a sister Grishma who is almost three now. Harish and Savita are their parents. As a toddler, tantrums used to be a part of almost all his daily routines from the color of the shirt to the snacks he ate. When in supermarket, if he found a toy he liked, he would scream and cry unless the toy was bought and given to him right away. The tantrums became absolutely unmanageable as he often would end up hitting Savita just because he wanted to watch the TV while eating dinner or biting Harish because he wouldn’t let him pet the animal at the Zoo.

Savita, herself remembers dealing with a particularly bad tantrum in which Ved threw his sandwich at her because the color of the Jam wasn’t something he wanted. There, she lost it for the first time and hit him that day. End result of that action was that Ved had a complete meltdown and Savita was left comforting a sobbing child while feeling bitter and miserable at herself for raising her hand on her kid. She promised to herself that this would never happen again. But then, it became a regular cycle of unjustified demand – Ved’s tantrum – Savita raising a her hand – Repent.

Here are the six tips to manage your own feeling and anger…you must apply before you think about handling kid’s tantrum.
  1. Identify the pattern your child follows. Prepare and come up with a plan you intend to use as and when a tantrum happens.
  2. Harness the patience of a Saint. Accept that you cannot control the action of your child a 100%. It is a waiting game in which you both learn to communicate with each other. All you can do is create a safe space with your child and guide them through these behavioural outbursts.
  3. Violence is never a solution. Similarly, sarcasm is wasted on your child. It is going to take a lot more growing up for them to understand you did not literally mean what you said.
  4. Also accept that the tantrum your child is having isn’t with a personal vendetta. At times this is just a means by which they convey their discomfort.
  5. Be the calm you wish to see in your child. You are the model for your child’s behaviours. They observe and learn what they see. An example of this can be seen when you notice the conversation which your kid has with a toy or a friend, they pretend to be a parent figure to. We often find them repeating the exact words we spoke to them in some situation.
  6. Whenever you feel, you are going to go ballistic on your kid, take a moment, count out your breath at least 5 times before you react. This will help you reduce the harshness of your tone and maintain some level of control on the situation.

At times, a tantrum can be very emotionally taxing as it makes you question yourself as a parent. However, it is very important to understand that this is a completely normal part of growing up and that your kid is in fact learning to place their emotions through your response to their tantrum.

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