Gwen Randall-Young

It is one thing to deal with the tantrum of a two-year-old. It’s easy to pick him up and put him in his room, where he most likely will fall asleep. What if the child is between 5 and 8?
A toddler having a tantrum is angry and may simply lie on the floor and kick his feet. An older child tends to act out towards people or things when in the midst of a tantrum. She may yell out insults, slam doors, or even throw things around. Conventional wisdom holds that when a toddler has a tantrum, the best thing to do is to ignore it.
With an older child, it is hard to know what to ignore. If the child is being physically or verbally abusive, to ignore such behavior would seem to be condoning it.
The key to avoiding tantrums in older children is to keep communicating with them. If they are angry, let them explain why they are so angry. Don’t argue with them, just listen. Once you convey to the child that you understand why she is so angry, you may be able to do some problem solving.
If she is angry because you have said “no” to a sleepover, you can explain your reasons once again and suggest a compromise. Perhaps she could go over for the evening, and you’ll pick her up before bedtime. Asking a child what they might suggest as a compromise gets them into some logical thinking and out of the emotional turmoil, if only for a few moments. It’s unlikely at this point, to revert to a tantrum.
Toddlers have tantrums because they do not have the skills to express what they want, or to argue their point. Older children have tantrums because they think they are not being heard.
The worst thing you can do with a child in a tantrum is to get angry and have a tantrum yourself. You need to stay calm, set the boundaries, and defuse things as much as you can. Tell the child that when he calms down, you will listen what he has to say.
If the child is out of control, being verbally abusive or damaging things, you need to step in. At this point you are not dealing with the issue, simply attempting to control the situation. Tell the child that they can be mad, but they cannot be abusive. When things have settled, you must reiterate with the child that such behavior is unacceptable. They must understand at an early age that being angry does not justify abusive words or behaviors.
Communication and anger management skills must be developed early. This is the first step in the elimination of family violence.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.