6 Things You Don’t Know About Tantrums
What research tells us about meltdowns, including the scientifically proven way to stop them
2. Ignore it, and it will go away
The fastest way to end most tantrums is to not add fuel to the fire, which means you should ignore the outburst. Turn your back if you can, and don’t get angry or emotional—from your child’s perspective, negative attention is better than none. We know this is easier said than done, but the less you acknowledge a hissy fit, the faster it will fade. In cases where parents kept quiet, their kids’ screams subsided in less than a minute on average.
3. Reasoning is futile
Ever notice how trying to talk to a ticked-off toddler just makes things worse? Here’s why: Kids in the midst of a meltdown are so mentally taxed, appeals to their sense of logic won’t sink in, and will only push their tirade to greater heights. So don’t bother explaining to Jimmy why he has to wear shoes outside. Don’t ask questions, either, which also overload their brain circuits as they scramble to formulate a response. Instead, give short, specific orders like “sit down,” “be quiet,” or “go to your room.” Avoid vague commands like “be good.” Only concrete commands will compute.
4. There’s more than one type of tantrum—and way to deal
There are actually three types of tantrums. “Attention tantrums” are a type where your child is playing quietly but erupts as soon as you’re on the phone. “Tangibles tantrums” erupt when your child desires something he can’t have, like a candy bar at the store. “Command avoidance tantrums” occur when your child resists changing what he’s doing, like taking a bath or going to bed. For the first two types of tantrums, ignoring them is best, since your attention is what they’re angling for. For “command avoidance” tantrums, you’ll need to take more forceful measures. Say, “I’m going to count to five. By five, you should be putting your toys away/dressing for bed.” Counting works well because no one can immediately jump into an activity they’re reluctant to do; this gives them time to adjust. If, by five, your child doesn’t comply, then put your hands on him and do it for him—toddlers hate being controlled in this manner and will try to avoid it in the future.