Childhood tantrums

Posted on 8 October 2015

Rage fits can quickly spiral out of control, leaving both child and parent feeling ashamed and shaken. Here are expert tips on dealing with those pesky tantrums.

As parents, we’ve all been there. We commiserate with the mom at the mall as she tries to quietly diffuse the tantrum bomb set off by the sight of the sweets aisle. We blush when it’s our kid who’s throwing a hysterical fit in the toy store. And we question our own parenting skills when our child erupts into full tantrum mode.

What is a tantrum?
Dr Tia Roos, an educational psychologist at Mediclinic Durbanville, explains: ‘A tantrum is a learnt behaviour and is used when children don’t get their own way, seek attention, want to take revenge, manipulate or dominate. If you can make sure your child doesn’t achieve their goal by means of tantrums, they will disappear.’

Responding by not responding
It all comes down to how you as parent respond to tantrums. But in the midst of tantrum mayhem, how do we deal with it? Dr Roos recommends that the best way is to ignore it: ‘Treat a tantrum as white noise. Ignore it completely. If you reprimand, beg or preach, your child will be receiving attention and that’s exactly what they are demanding at that time.’

Consequences, not punishment
Tantrums mostly commonly occur between the ages of two and three. When trying to eliminate them, it’s appropriate to discuss consequences. Dr Roos says: ‘It’s senseless to try and reason with your child during a tantrum. When everything is calm and back to normal, explain to what the consequences will be in the future. Using time-outs can be an effective mechanism.’

A sliding scale
Adopt a sliding scale approach to time-outs, so that the consequences of a tantrum remain age-appropriate. For example, explain that they will be sent to their room for two minutes (two-year-old child) or three minutes (three-year-old child).

Stay calm, this will be over soon
As difficult as it may seem, it’s crucial to stay calm in the chaos of tantrums and when implementing a time-out thereafter. Remember that this is a learning experience for your child and you’re teaching them that throwing a tantrum is not an effective way to get what they want.



The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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