The Two Most Challenging Tantrums Unpacked

31957579_10215879104825892_8240667589496274944_nThe final two tantrum categories are the signature tantrums of the Level Four (Challenging Child) though all kids will dabble in these now and again.  Level Four children have a clear sense of justice (predominately favoring themselves) and they know exactly what they want to do and what they don’t want to do 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Your managing these two tantrums well will help your child understand your position of authority in the home and their own authority over their behavior.

Tantrum #3: The “I’ve Been Wronged Tantrum”

 The lesser of the two, the “I’ve been wronged” tantrum, occurs when the child’s preconceived ideas about how life is supposed to go, disappoint instead. Food on their dinner plate touches. A popsicle falls to the ground. Someone takes their seat when they “called it first.” Someone doesn’t share. They swallow their gum.  Someone breathes their air. The tooth fairy forgets.  The dog eats their chips. Their sister gets the bigger piece. The possibilities are literally endless, but managing these varied emotional outbursts is the same.

Prevention: Impossible. Don’t try. Catering to the whims, demands, psychosis of “seekers of justice kids” simply encourages the high maintenance behaviors. Now you don’t need to mix the peas into the potatoes or knock their popsicle to the floor periodically, but also don’t act like you fear their tantrums by always giving them the bigger piece of cake or erecting Lego structures to divide the food on their plates. Just live normally—as if they were regular children.

Early Tantrum: Usually this time is minimal. The act of injustice usually ramps them up instantly. Do your best to remain calm and simply announce what is happening matter-of-factly. “No, she doesn’t feel like sharing right now does she?” “You swallowed your gum. I hate when that happens to me.” “Your sister is very close to your face. What should you do about it?”

Mid Tantrum: Ride it. Calmly speak their emotions to them and sportscast what is happening. “You called the chair in front first but that boy got there first and won’t give it to you. That’s frustrating for you but good for him. We will need to leave if you can’t figure this out without a fit.” “It’s sad when a popsicle falls. I’ll help you clean it up.” Don’t panic and rush to make the world right again. Dealing with a forgetful fairy, lost gum, or a soggy bun is part of life. By modeling resilience, you gain an opportunity to teach rather than simply fussing around to end a tantrum. In the long run, not catering to this kind of tantrum will shorten their duration and minimize their frequency as the child learns that sometimes things happen that don’t go their way.

Post Tantrum: Don’t miss this opportunity to talk about what happened and how the child dealt with it. This is a great time to comment on growth if they showed any improvement in how they handled it. If it was still a crazy one perhaps, “Wow, you really lost control of yourself earlier. How did that help things? What might we try next time?” If perceived injustice is a regular occurrence, take time outside of these moments to teach Philippian’s 2:4. Model putting others first and accepting disappointments well. Celebrate when they begin to consider other’s needs as well as their own.

Tantrum #4 The “I Don’t Want to! Tantrum”

The most challenging of all tantrums. This one takes the most thought, strategy, willpower, and stamina. This is the tantrum that will bring weaker parents to their knees—but not you!

Prevention: Don’t ask your child to do something or stop doing something unless you are prepared to see it through. Just put away the lunch box if you are not ready for pushback. Ignore the shouting if you are not suited up for battle. Give 5 or 10 minute warnings before transitions. “In 10 minutes you will need to clean those up.” “We are leaving in five minutes.” Use the child’s name and ask them to look at you before making a request***. “Michael, look at me. I will need you to pick up those toys in 5 minutes. Do you understand?” Avoid asking “OK?”Unknown

Early Tantrum: More than likely, the child will express some sort of “I don’t want to” message. Expect it. Embrace it, “OH honey, you don’t have to want to. You just need to do it.” Remind them that everyone needs to learn to do things they don’t want to do. “Oh, good. You get to practice doing things you don’t want to do. This will help you be happier as an adult.” Be confident in your request. Don’t threaten, plead, or incentivize. That will only lead to a child who negotiates for their compliance or waits until the threats are big enough. The goal is obedience because they recognize your authority and want to function well as a family unit. If there is an obvious connection, use it. “We will leave for your practice as soon as the toys are cleaned up.” Don’t get caught in a power struggle. If you asked them to say thank you to Grandma and they refuse, plan for your escape. “I’m not sure why Michael is not saying thank you. We are going to leave now, and I hope he will decide to call you later when he feels more kind and cooperative. “Be ready to climb into the McDonald’s play tube, jump in the pool, pull the car over, or leave the party early. Rather than threaten for obedience, just act swiftly.

Mid tantrum: Look at ease. Confident. Look surprised at the fit, “I’m not sure why you are losing control of yourself. Do you need my help cleaning these up or can you do it on your own?” “Helping” looks like picking the child up under your arm and placing their hand on each of the toys and putting them away with them. Stay confident and compassionate. “I’m not sure why you’re throwing a fit rather than walking upstairs. Looks like you need my help walking tonight.” If you said “No” to something and they are losing control, consider their tantrum as their own lesson in futility. They are punishing themselves. “I know you want _____. But you can’t always have everything you want. It’s hard sometimes. When you’re done crying, we can go play outside. Let me know.” Do not negotiate with terrorists. Giving in increases the child’s stamina and frequency. This is foolish and counter-productive.

Post tantrum: If obeying is generally a struggle, focus all parenting efforts here–outside the moment of the struggle. Use whammies. Teach about obeying. Practice obeying. Celebrate when they obey with a good attitude. When a Level Four child can’t be in charge, they need to know that someone capable is. If accepting your authority or accepting “no” is a frequent issue, time their crying. Keep track with older kids and see how many minutes a day they waste crying.

The bottom line with all four types of tantrums is do NOT be afraid of them. Expect them. Welcome them. These are beautiful opportunities to teach many life lessons. And they make great stories!


***Don’t ask a child to eat, sleep, stop crying, etc. These are activities that they have authority over and not us. Use the power that is yours to cook healthy meals, create bedtime rituals, and move criers to new locations.


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