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The 3 different types of kids tantrums and how to deal with them

By Karen Holford 2 min read

Q: How should I deal with temper tantrums?

Children have different kinds of tantrums and how you deal with them will depend on the reason for their behaviour:

Demand tantrums are when children want something that you aren’t able or willing to give them. Acknowledge their feelings calmly: “I know you want something and it feels very disappointing that you can’t have it right now.” Remind them of your continued love: “I love you very much and I cannot let you have that today. I’ll sit with you until you feel calmer.” Use the word and rather than but to set a less defensive tone. Then encourage your child to verbalise their request politely: “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you when you behave/talk in this way. Please can you tell me what you want in a polite big boy/girl voice?”

Out-of-sorts tantrums happen when children are tired, hungry, thirsty, sad, lonely, unwell, needing your attention or struggling with a difficult task. When children feel out-of-sorts, they just feel miserable and they don’t know why. Try to figure out what your child needs and provide it as soon as possible. It’s very confusing for them to be disciplined for this kind of tantrum because they are just expressing their distress. Meet their physical and emotional needs regularly before they feel so out-of-sorts that they lose control. Try making a picture-chart showing a drink, some food, a hug and so on, so they can point to what they need.

Sensory overload tantrums happen when children are overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, when they’re somewhere with lots of visual stimuli, sounds, bright lights, unpredictable events and distracted parents, such as a shopping centre. Children who have heightened sensory awareness may be more likely to have these kinds of tantrums, and punishment or time-outs will just add to their painful sensory overload. Calmly take them to a quiet place and soothe them until their senses recover. Whisper, smile, sing softly, snuggle them, offer them a drink of water, blow bubbles, smell lavender or rock them in a chair or swing.

Tantrums can leave you exhausted, battered and frustrated. Take care of your child’s immediate needs, reassure them of your love and forgiveness, and then find a way to replenish yourself as a parent.

Write a list of quick activities that will help you to calm down and recharge your own batteries. Include some activities that you can do with your child too, such as watching a funny video, reading a story to them that makes you both laugh, giving them a back rub or mini massage, going for a nature walk, making a fruit smoothie together or even having a nap together!


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Any advice given is general in nature and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and must not be relied upon as such. For any healthcare advice, always consult a healthcare practitioner.

Karen Holford has masters degrees in child psychology and family therapy, but the best learning about family and relationships has always been from her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the author of "52 Ways to Parent Happy Children".


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