If you have a child who throws tantrums, you are going to love today’s letter because I am sharing the method I discovered for stopping tantrums in all of my preschool students. It works like magic.
First, though, consider tantrums themselves. They start when a child is frustrated, when they can’t arrange the world to their liking. It is often something as silly as not being able to hold a teddy bear and stack blocks at the same time. However, the child quickly realizes that adults attend to him when he has a tantrum. Children don’t separate positive and negative attention: they are driven to gain it all. Please note that tantrums are not planned behavior, they are reactions to feelings and learned ways of behaving. Tantrums become a feedback loop that spirals onward. We want children to express emotion but we need to teach them to do it in socially acceptable ways.
Every time your child throws a tantrum, show him the sentence strip (See below) and, using an empathic voice, say “I see you are frustrated, you can calm down and recharge.” Give him a choice of where to sit—this is not a punishment. The first times you try this, your child will likely respond by throwing the sentence strip and crying louder. Walk at least a few steps away keeping a neutral face and be mostly turned away from your child. Try to look busy doing something else. In a few minutes re-present the sentence strips. Repeat until he sits and clears his tears. Praise him for gaining control of himself, show him the “Go” and resume life. There is no punishment or lecture.
This method works because it teaches your child how to take control of their own emotions. Tantrums are no more fun to throw than they are to witness. As you work to end the tantrums, teach your child more productive ways of getting their needs met. In addition, after the tantrum event, try to remember what set it off. Is there a pattern? Could a sibling be bullying without your notice? Could this child be hungry? Over tired? He might need more lap time, or more outdoor time. There are times when a tantrum is a sign of something that needs fixing or adjusting.
For this method to work, you must be consistent. Use this wherever and whenever your child has a tantrum. There may be other adults in your child’s life (teacher? grandparent?) who will not use the sentence strip. That is okay. Your child will still stop having tantrums when he is with you and, eventually, with them.
Remember this is teaching, not punishing. Now get started, so you can say good-bye to tantrums.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.
To make the sentence strip
It is easy to make a sentence strip. It is a strip of paper with four pictures. As a preschool teacher, I printed mine, backed them with tagboard, and then laminated them. Copy the one shown or make your own. The child sitting nicely can be a picture of your own child, but the picture or drawing of the tantrumming child cannot. Stick figure drawings and black and white pictures work equally well. Make at least 10 sentence strips. Have one with you at all times.