Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash
Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash

Dealing with Temper Tantrums

Question

Our youngest daughter is strong-willed and throws temper tantrums whenever she doesn’t get her way.  We’ve talked to other parents but still aren’t sure what to do.  Any suggestions?

Answer

You’ve rushed into Wal-Mart for a few things and pass the Sponge Bob Bubble Bath as you check-out.  Your little gal reaches out to grab it, you move her hand away and say no.  Game on—the power struggle has begun.

Temper tantrums can first appear during a child’s second year, peak between the ages of two and three, and decrease by the age of four—an age when the child is forming a sense of self–when the toddler is old enough to have a sense of “me” but is too young to control getting what they want and when they want it.

Most tantrums are caused by the combination of high energy and low self-control, but some can result from organic disturbances or allergies.  Tantrums usually last as long as it takes to get what they want or until they realize that their outburst isn’t going to work.

Be aware of where and when the tantrums are most likely to occur.  Most children throw tantrums only in a particular place and with a particular person.  Be aware of the signs of a brewing storm.  Ask God to help you to respond and not react to the next outburst.

At the first sign of a tantrum, stay aware of your own emotions.  It’s easy for our kids tantrums to push our buttons and cause us to react with unhealthy expressions of anger.

Pick her up, hold her firmly and in a soft and kind voice, look her in the eyes and slowly say, “Honey, I love you.  I know you want the Sponge Bob Bubble Bath and you can’t have it.”  Don’t react to her anger but do respond to her frustration and set a clear boundary.  No debate or discussion.

We’re much more likely to respond out of strength when we remind ourselves that this is a teachable moment.  We react out of weakness when we choose to focus on what others might be thinking of us rather than how God can help us use this as an opportunity to model healthy emotions and clear boundaries for our child.

Never surrender to theatrics.  Your response to your daughter is much more important than what anyone in the grocery store might think of you.  When in Philippians 4:19 God promised to “supply all of your needs” that includes the wisdom and strength to remain semi-calm when your child is losing it and embarrassing you.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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