Module 4: Promoting Mental Health in Early Childhood

Temper TantrumManaging Emotions

Taming Tantrums and Other Conflicts

One of the most difficult tasks of self-control is managing intense negative emotions. Children typically learn to regulate their emotions and to control their own behavior between the ages from 2-5 years. As their abstract thinking and language skills increase, they become better able to label and discuss their emotions with others.

Questions to Ask

  • Does your child have a will of her own? How and when does she show it?
  • Is your child having frequent temper tantrums?
  • What seems to trigger the tantrums? How do you respond to them?
  • What kinds of things do you find yourself saying “no” to?
  • Tell me how you set limits for your child. How do you discipline her?

Provider Tips

  • Ask about the rules parents have for their child and which ones cause the most tension. Setting limits is important, but limits should be appropriate for the child’s age and level of development.
  • Using the guidance listed below discuss how parents can deal with tempers tantrums and help their child to manage her emotions.

Guidance for Parents

  • Tantrums are common at this age and it helps to try to understand why your child is having a tantrum. Look for signs that she is getting upset. Tantrums often happen when a child:
    • Can’t have something she wants
    • Is unable to accomplish something she is trying to do
    • Is not allowed to do something she wants to do
    • Is asked to do something she doesn’t want to do
    • Is overtired, hungry, or uncomfortable
  • Some tantrums are unavoidable, but there are a few things you can do to limit the number of tantrums your child has.
    • Try to distract her by turning her attention to something else
    • Give her “control” over two acceptable choices for things she can do or can have
    • Help her with what she is trying to do and praise her for her efforts
    • Remove objects that are “off-limits” or put them out of sight and out of reach
    • Pick your “battles” and try to limit the things you say no to
    • Don’t react to her behavior and ignore the tantrum if it’s safe to do so
    • Pick her up and hold her until she calms down
  • Once a tantrum does occur, stay calm. Don’t give in to your child’s wishes. If you let her use tantrums to control situations or to get what she wants, she will think the tantrum worked. She will continue to use the same behavior every time she wants something.
  • Help your child learn to express her feelings. Tantrums often happen when she doesn’t have the words she needs to tell you how she is feeling. Let her know that you want to understand and teach her the words to use—angry, sad, upset, tired, hungry. Each time a tantrum begins, tell her to “use your words” instead of crying and screaming. As your child’s vocabulary grows, tantrums will be less likely to occur.
  • Don’t dwell on the tantrum after it is over. Some time after she has calmed down, talk to your child and use the situation to teach her limits and how to react or behave. Let her know that it was her behavior that you didn’t like and that you still love her.
  • If your child bites, hits, throws things, or uses violent or harmful behavior during a tantrum:
    • Don’t ignore the tantrum – take action
    • Tell her firmly that her behavior is not acceptable
    • Remove her from the situation
    • Give her a time out
Resources for Providers and Families

For Providers

Area of Concern: Excessive Temper Tantrums more information

Excessive temper tantrums may reflect problems with social, self-care, or verbal skills. Disruptions in sleeping, eating, and caregiving routines can intensify tantrums. Ask parents how they respond when their child is distressed. Overly sympathetic responses may reinforce the child’s disruptive behavior. Parents can provide support without giving in to unacceptable demands by standing by or holding the child without speaking.

For Families

Temper Tantrums

Lieberman AF. 1995. The Emotional Life of a Toddler. New York, NY: Free Press.

Charting Positive Behavior PDF

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