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In Kids & Family Commentary

Look familiar?

Six strategies to deal with tantrums


Prior to this fall, I considered myself pretty fortunate in the tantrum department. Neither of my sons were big fit-throwers at 2 or 3 when such behavior is common. But around the ripe age of 5, my son started to fuss in such an explosive way that I questioned everything from his diet to the history of my family's mental health.

During less emotional moments, I recognize the trigger for his tantrums is school. For the first time, he is going to kindergarten and is away from me five days in a row.

He's able to verbalize his feelings, which is good, and says he misses me and that school is too long. However, the deeper issue is that, for the first time, I am forcing him to do something he doesn't want to do. Consequently, he feels a lack of control over his life.

No doubt about it, my son's life is going through a big change. However, since I am not going to homeschool him, and believe me, I considered it, he's going to have to ride this one out and adjust.

In the meantime, I'm trying to keep it together.

Despite my solid belief that my son is spending his weekdays in the right setting, it doesn't stop me from feeling responsible for some of his behavior.

A couple of weeks ago, a wise friend told me "your children are not a reflection of you." I needed to hear this, because every time my kid throws himself on the bamboo floor, or screams like Elmo in Tortureland or starts ripping up the junk mail with mini Hulk hands, my mind starts racing and I think, "Is this because of the time I snapped, threw the mug in the sink and it broke into 20 pieces?"

Maybe so, maybe not, but blaming myself for his behavior isn't helping him. Once I finally realized this, I was able to let some of the mommy guilt melt away and really strategize the problem. (My much saner husband helped with the strategizing, too.)

Also, I stopped wishing, even quasi-praying, for this difficult era to pass. Instead, I realized this is a critical time in my son's life, and how we play this out will help him manage anger and frustration for the rest of his life.

Through thought, research and the advice of others, I compiled a list of ways to handle tantrums. The reality is, sometimes these strategies work and sometimes they don't, but practicing them sure beats sitting around and blaming yourself -- or your spouse's family -- for your kids' erratic behavior.

1. Provide appropriate materials for your kid to shred while angry. A mentor gave me this idea, and I had to really think about it before deciding it was a good one. If your kid breaks things during tantrums, providing him or her with something to shred -- paper or bubble wraps or whatever -- teaches him or her to channel their anger. This is the equivalent of an adult punching a pillow when angry. The anger needs to come out, and it's all about how it's released.

2. Stay calm and tell yourself not to take it personally. If you get upset, you're just fueling the fire. So taking a deep breath, walking out of the room and / or telling yourself, "This is normal and it will be over soon" are all ways to deal with the heat of the moment. Also, don't blame yourself, at least not in the middle of the fit. It will only make you more likely to snap.

3. Videotape your kid in mid-tantrum. I have not tried this, but a friend told me she did, and it worked. Sometimes, when kids see themselves out of control it makes them less likely to repeat the behavior. Plus, the footage will make excellent blackmail when they're teenagers.

4. Humor. Most of the time, I ignore my son's potty humor, but when he's tantruming, I'll try to distract him with a poopy joke or whatever bodily function he currently finds the funniest. Tickling sometimes works, too, or basic slapstick, like pretending to bang myself in the head with a frying pan. (Sound crazy? Hey, I'm in the trenches over here, desperately trying anything!)

5. Empathize. Sometimes, humor doesn't work because kids feel you're not taking them seriously enough, and they only get angrier. In which case, saying to your child, "I can see you are very angry and frustrated right now" and trying to hug them might be the ticket. Sometimes kids get really fed up with being misunderstood, because adults forget that little people have a deep understanding of situations, but a limited vocabulary to express themselves.

6. Have your kid evaluated. If all else fails and the behavior continues and you're feeling really sad or worried, have your kid evaluated by a professional. Chances are, he or she will tell you their behavior is normal, and you will feel better. After confessing my son's seemingly Satanic emotional outbursts, a dear, honest friend told me she had her 7-year-old daughter evaluated after she went through a tantrum spell, and her behavior was diagnosed as normal. Just hearing this made me feel a lot better, especially since her daughter's behavior was much like my son's. Once again, it is parent-to-parent honesty that helps me through a rough spot.

Talkbacks

Klabo | Oct. 8, 2009 at 7:55 p.m. (report)

Some people never learned how to set limits with children. Consequences perhaps?

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yvonne8753 | Oct. 7, 2009 at 9:36 a.m. (report)

Who is picking up all the shredded paper? All these "hints" sound like to me that you are condoning his behavior. Send him to his room and don't let him out until he can behave himself. It worked with me, my kid and my grandkids.

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murf | Oct. 7, 2009 at 5:06 a.m. (report)

What ever happened to the good old days when the threat of dad's belt across the fanny was enough to stop a tantrum in it's tracks? Stop being so namby pamby when raising these kids. They will be helpless and weak when they get older, and probably a lifetime burden on you.

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PlayerGotGame | Oct. 6, 2009 at 3:19 p.m. (report)

#7. Quit having babies.

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