The Problem of Tantrums
When I started working with Sue, she was very stressed and knew that things were out of control. She was especially worried because her 3-year-old was imitating Johnny’s behavior. Everything she tried was not working, and Johnny’s tantrums were getting worse. Sue tried taking away his video games, having him sit in a time-out chair, ignoring him, and scolding and yelling at him. She even resorted to spanking him out of desperation. She knew that when she got upset with Johnny, and especially when she spanked him, Johnny tantrums got even worse. She felt like things were spiraling out of control, and she didn’t know what to do.
What to Do When He Tantrums
The first thing I talked to Sue about was that the goal is to help Johnny calm down. It’s not to control or stop the tantrum. I explained that when she tries to stop Johnny when he is upset, she enters into a power struggle with him, and this usually makes the tantrum more intense.
Instead, she learned to help Johnny by first validating his feelings. Instead of yelling at him or correcting him, she said things like, “I see you are frustrated that you have to stop playing your game… It really is hard for you to stop”.
Right away, Johnny didn’t get as upset. Then Sue encouraged him to go into his room to cool down. This wasn’t done to punish him or put him in a time-out. It was for Johnny to have the time and space to calm down.
Sue told me that Johnny wants to be with her, and would not go to his room by himself. Plus, he still wanted to play his games, and tried to get her to give in to him. So, when she tried to physically put him in his room, he got aggressive with her. I told her that it is best not to physically force Johnny, and not to touch him when he is upset, since his behavior was not dangerous. I suggested that she go into Johnny’s bedroom, and if she needed to, she could carry her daughter and take her with her. That way Johnny would follow her on his own, since he did not like to be away from her.
How to Help Him Become Calm
Sue learned that it was important to not talk about what Johnny was mad about during the tantrum, but to help him feel safe and secure. It was important for her to help him get in control. She would talk to him firmly but kindly, and tell him to stay in his room and play with his toys until he felt calm. Johnny loves Lego’s, so Sue started playing with them and Johnny would join her. As he got involved with the Lego’s, he quickly calmed down. Once he was calm, Sue was able to talk about what had made him mad. She would explain that it was okay that he got mad, and talked about what he could do when he feels that way.
A reward chart was used for Johnny when he followed directions, including stopping playing video games. He was motivated to actually earn extra time on the video game, and to go to his favorite restaurant. Sue sometimes changed the rewards and added new activities to keep it motivating. (This website offers free printable behavior charts).
The Tantrums Stopped
Within 1 month the tantrums stopped. Johnny still got upset, but he would tell his mother why. She encouraged him to tell her how he felt, and together they went in his room. Johnny would start playing with different activities, such as drawing, playing with dinosaurs or Lego’s. Within a few minutes, he would be completely calm. Within 6 weeks, Johnny learned to go to his room by himself and would come back out in about 10 minutes, completely calm. Over time, he needed to go to his room less and less. The stress level in the whole family subsided, and Johnny’s sister no longer imitated Johnny’s tantrums.
This is an example of very successful, and fairly quick change. Although results are different for everyone, this is very realistic. The most significant change usually occurs when you step out of the power struggle and no longer try to control your child. For help and guidance, please feel free to contact us.