By Michelle Foye, M.A., CCC-SLP, Director of Speech-Language &
Learning Services, Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center
There aren’t any magic tricks that we can use to prevent all tantrums, but there are some tips to help avoid some of the outbursts that may be happening more regularly.
First, make sure that your child is getting enough sleep, has a healthy diet, and has lots of time to run and play every day. Look at the big picture, and from there, start to identify if there are triggers that will set off a tantrum.
Questions to Keep in Mind
- Is there a tantrum around nap time because your child is tired or midday because your child needs a snack?
- Does your child have the communication skills to let you know that he/she may need something, such as a favorite stuffed animal or a cookie with some juice?
- Does your child have difficulty transitioning from one fun activity to the next?
If your child has the vocabulary, but there is still a breakdown, is your child able to identify what is upsetting him/her?
Five tips to help keep tantrums from happening
1. Identify a Pattern. If there is a pattern of outbursts every day and your child doesn’t have the vocabulary or the ability to tell you what the problem is, help your child to find out what is triggering the tantrum. Track the time of day or activity during the week that may be causing the tantrum.
2. Give Your Child the Words. If there is a pattern, or you can sense that frustration is rising, but your child does not have the vocabulary to express it, model what your child should say so the request is fulfilled without having a tantrum. For example, “mom, I want a cookie” or “mom, I need my teddy.” Sometimes just “cookie” and “teddy” work just fine! Simple sign language or gestures also are a good option for having needs met.
3. Start the Day With a Picture Schedule. The schedule can be as general or detailed as your child may need it to be. You can take real pictures and put them on a board or print some out from the internet. Post the picture schedule in the house so your child can see what is coming next or what already happened. Some kids may need something as simple as holding your fingers up in the morning and showing them. Example: first, we are going to eat breakfast, then you can play. When it’s lunchtime, we are going to grandma’s (simultaneously count on your fingers – 1-2-3).
4. Offer Choices. Allowing your child the opportunity to choose between different options helps limit some of the breakdowns in communication. The simplest and most visual option is to hold up objects and ask which one your child prefers. For example, “cookie or pretzel?” If your child points because he/she doesn’t have the words, you can assist by modeling them: “Cookie. I want a cookie.” It also is a good idea to hold the object for an extra minute to wait and see if you get any verbal or gesture response from your child. Reward any communication with the desired object.
5. Redirect Attention. A good back-up plan is to redirect! If you can see that all other attempts at stopping a tantrum from happening are failing, try to get your child interested in another activity. If you can distract, you may be able to buy some time until you can assess the big picture. For example, as you are searching for the snack that seemed to have worked its way to the bottom of the bag, point out the big construction truck or fluffy dog out the window.
You’ve got this! As your child’s vocabulary continues to grow, hopefully, most tantrums will disappear.