Taming Tantrums

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A post from Family Pastor Phil Haas and his wife, Bev Haas:

Ah, yes, those embarrassing tantrums that make us want to run and hide.  Well, it’s time to put your big boy pants on and take this little ogre on.  Forgive us for calling your child an ogre, but we can all be an ogre at times.  When kids (or adults) discover that they can’t do or have something they want, the stage is set for a tantrum, which is an uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration.  Our grandson’s preschool teacher taught a lesson that he still recites some four years later.  He learned “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!” We’re glad you’re ready to teach your son this godly value as well.

A Biblical Path

So we are on the same page we want to point out tantrums are not just about uncontrolled outbursts.  Tantrums are an outward expression of an inward sinful nature.  In Romans 3:23 the Bible states that all of us sin.  The Hebrew root for the word sin means to miss as in miss the mark.  Makes you think of English words like misbehavior or misconduct.  When a child acts out we must call it for what it is-sin.   Now let’s look at some advice to point your son down a better path as Proverbs 22:6 advises parents to do.

Plan Ahead

When you’re not in the midst of a battle, begin planning your approach.  If you wait and react in the midst of the struggle, you probably won’t make your best decision.  Visualize how you are going to handle his next tantrum.  Decide how you will act and react no matter how your child behaves.  I (Bev) use to tell our then preschool son, Brian, he could either get under control or I could help him; those were his only choices.  Self-control is a learned choice. I see too many junior high students (and their parents) that have not learned to take ownership of their behavior, so we’re glad you’re ready to teach your son responsibility and help him rein in his uncontrolled outbursts.

Press On

We are big fans of Love and Logic Parenting.  Jim Faye, one of the authors, writes and speaks a lot about making parenting more fun and less frustrating.  That probably got your attention since dealing with children’s tantrums is anything but fun.  The reality is, all young children throw an occasional tantrum to see if their parents will give-in to their demands. A key to handling this frustrating behavior is to stay calm.  Don’t get pulled in to the emotions of the moment.  The next time your child begins a meltdown, put a bored look on your face and say, “Nice tantrum honey, but I think you’re losing your touch. Last time you kicked your feet a lot harder.  Give it your best!”  Another approach is to walk away and peek around a corner.  Make sure your child can’t see you but you can see him.  There are few things more fun than seeing a small child who’s beginning to realize that their outbursts aren’t exciting enough to get them any extra attention.  The most common reason children throw tantrums, in addition to being sinful and selfish, is to get attention.  Make sure your child is getting positive attention.

Don’t try to control everythingThat’s not possible.  Instead give up some control to keep the control you need.  The best way to give up some control is through simple choices such as “Do you want orange juice or apple juice?” Don’t give a choice you can’t live with.  Children have an uncanny ability to pull us into trying to control the uncontrollable.  You can avoid this dead end by using what Love and Logic calls enforceable statements.  Enforceable statements tell kids what WE will do or allow rather than trying to tell THEM what to do.  This approach gives some control to our children.  Examples are: “I’ll listen as soon as your voice is calm as mine” and “I’ll keep the toys I have to pick up and you can keep the ones you pick up.”

Choose your battles wisely.  It’s still great advice!  Does it really matter that his clothes don’t match?  Our daughter, Amanda, once wore her wool hat and mittens in July, and quickly figured out that they were not appropriate accessories for the season!  When you choose to draw a line be empathetic but don’t give in or you’ll invite more tantrums.  An understanding tone or look can go a long way when your child is frustrated.  You can show empathy and still be firm (We suspect your child may hear the firmness in his dad’s voice, but he hears the nice mommy voice from you).  Phil said I used my “junior high no nonsense teacher voice” when I meant business.

Our parting advice is to persevere.  Nothing works flawlessly or all the time, so keep practicing these and other suggestions you pick up from experienced parents you hang out with.  Your son is smart and he’ll soon catch on that tantrums don’t pay off.

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