Taming the Beast
One thing you definitely shouldn't do when your child has a tantrum: Give in. That teaches her that an outburst works. Instead: Stay calm and focused. Your primary goal is to comfort your child so that he can regain control. Soothe a baby with your voice as you rock him. Tell a toddler or preschooler firmly, but with empathy, that you know he's upset but you can't help him until he calms down. You want him to understand that his tantrum isn't getting him anywhere but that you're there for him when he settles down.
Angie Tucker of Garden Grove, CA, says it made all the difference in 3-year-old Joshua's tantrums when she shifted her approach from punitive to supportive. When time-outs and yelling didn't work, she tried talking calmly to Joshua when he got upset. She took him in her arms and asked him to tell her what the problem was. "He realized I wasn't fighting him. I didn't give in to his demands, but I let him know I cared." Hold on. Many children, like Joshua, respond well to being held -- especially early on in a tantrum -- because it gives them a bit of security when they're otherwise feeling out of control. You're not spoiling her or caving in to her needs by hugging an angry child. Some kids, though, are overstimulated by physical contact when they're upset. If your child becomes more irritated when you touch her, don't force it. Just go about your business nearby and tell her, "I'll stay here until you feel okay." Distract. You might be able to divert a child under 3 from a tantrum, especially if you catch him before he's totally lost control. Try to arouse his interest in something you're doing -- start to color, for example -- or in something you spot out the window: "That bird has a red cap!" Respect the need to let it all out. "Cries and outbursts have a healing effect," says Aletha Solter, Ph.D., author of Tears and Tantrums. "Children use them to resolve their feelings and release tension." Instead of trying to stop them, teach your child to let out her anger and frustration at an appropriate time, to calm herself down when she can, and to let you be her ally. Stop her if she becomes destructive or disruptive, but don't insist on "shushing" her when there's really no need.