The 5 Best Ways to Defuse a Temper Tantrum

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A Guest post written by Sara Collins

It happens to all parents; no matter the temperament or personality of your child, at some point or another they will throw a temper tantrum. For some kids it’s a regular occurrence, while for others a rare anomaly. Either way, being prepared for this extreme breakdown in communication is an essential part of parenting. How, then, can you defuse the temper tantrum before it becomes a full-fledged, shrieking meltdown? Here are five ways that will work for you.
1) Distractions 
Depending on your kid’s age and attention span, distractions can be a great way to calm down the situation. Give him or her something else to think about: if you’re in the mall, start talking about the next store you’re heading to and how many awesome toys are within, if you’re leaving the elementary school, start asking the child about which of their favorite TV shows they’d like to watch at home. Distractions work for most kids because they focus the child’s enormous energy onto something other than the source of their displeasure. Don’t feel dishonest about distracting them, you can still resolve whatever they were having a problem with, but in a calm and collected manner.
2) Get silly! 
While it may not be obvious, acting silly and going wild is a great way to take your child’s mind off of their tantrum. If your child starts to pout and scream about leaving the park, tell a funny joke they can understand, or make up a comedic song about where you’re heading next. Once you get them laughing, they’ll start to forget what made them so mad in the first place. Silliness can defuse the situation and prevent a meltdown, because even the most precocious child can’t resist a goofy face or silly song. If you’re in public, your comedic behavior may raise a few eyebrows, but it will prevent a full-on and ugly tantrum.
3) Mirror the tantrum
Better done in private, mirroring the craziness of your child’s temper tantrum is sure to surprise them and can nip the problem in the bud. If your child is wailing while you try to bathe them, start crying loudly yourself (not loudly enough to hurt their eardrums). If they’re lying on your living room floor and refuse to walk outside, lay down yourself and feign childish stubbornness. While it may seem a bit loony, mirroring your child’s tantrum will show them how silly they’re being and give you the upper hand.
4) Leave the scene with your child 
When your child loses it in public, annoyed, disturbed, or amused strangers suddenly play a role in your family drama. The public setting can undermine your authority, since you don’t want to be seen by others as overly strict or overly permissive. In this instance, just take your child and calmly take them outside, to the car, or somewhere away from others. This technique works well with children because you can prevent the child from making a scene and calmly reason with them in private where your authority is stronger. Sometimes, a child will throw a tantrum simply because there are strangers about and they know instinctively that fact will put more pressure on you to give them what they want.
5) Ignore the tantrum 
In especially severe temper tantrums, simply zipping your lips and refusing to engage the child can be a useful strategy. Leaving the room can help, but of course be close enough to make sure your child is physically safe. Needless to say, this technique works best in private situations. In a park or shopping mall or public transportation setting, your refusal to negotiate may result in a screaming session that drives bystanders crazy. However, when it’s just you and your family, ignoring the tantrum can show the child that you won’t respond to such tactics and that they have to communicate normally with you to get what they want. If your eardrums can take the noise, this can be a great, if counter intuitive, technique.
The most important thing to remember about defusing temper tantrums is to shift the focus from the source of the tantrum to something you can mitigate for the moment. Once you’re ready, you can calmly and coolly deal with whatever set off the child in the first place. Crucially, doing so will send the most positive possible message to your son or daughter: you care about their frustration and will do anything you can to resolve it, but you will not reward temper tantrums. That message, combined with encouraging your child to communicate calmly, will allow you to avoid temper tantrums ahead of time.
Sara Collins is a writer for NerdWallet, a site that helps consumers learn about educational savings.

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