By Bev and Phil Haas
I’m having a terrible time controlling our son’s tantrums. They were annoying when he was 2. I can’t imagine what he will be like in a few more years. He’s a little better when I get my husband involved. What can I do before we both lose it?
Ah, yes, those embarrassing tantrums that make us want to run and hide. When kids (or adults) discover that they can’t do or have something they want, the stage is set for a tantrum. Our grandson’s preschool teacher taught a lesson that he still recites almost four years later: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!” We’re glad you’re ready to teach your son this godly value as well.
A Biblical Path
Tantrums are uncontrolled outbursts of anger and frustration—but it’s more. Tantrums are also an outward expression of an inward sinful nature.
In Romans 3:23 the Bible states that all of us sin. The Hebrew root for the word sin means “to miss,” as in miss the mark. It makes you think of English words like misbehavior or misconduct. When a child acts out, we must call it what it is—sin. Let’s look at some advice to point your son down a better path, as Proverbs 22:6 advises parents to do.
When you’re not in the midst of a battle, begin planning your approach. If you wait and react in the midst of the struggle, you probably won’t make your best decision. Visualize how you are going to handle his next tantrum. Decide how you will act and react, no matter how your child behaves.
I (Bev) used to tell our son, Brian, when he was in preschool that he could either get under control or I could help him; those were his only choices. Self-control is a learned choice. I see too many junior high students (and their parents) who have not learned to take ownership of their behavior.
We are big fans of Love and Logic Parenting. Jim Faye, one of the authors, writes and speaks about making parenting more fun and less frustrating. That probably got your attention, since dealing with children’s tantrums is anything but fun.
All young children throw an occasional tantrum to see if their parents will give in to their demands. A key to handling this frustrating behavior is to stay calm. Don’t get pulled in to the emotions of the moment. The next time your child begins a meltdown, put a bored look on your face and say, “Nice tantrum honey, but I think you’re losing your touch. Last time you kicked your feet a lot harder. Give it your best!”
Another approach is to walk away but then peek around a corner. Make sure your child can’t see you but you can see him. You’ll see him beginning to realize that his outbursts aren’t exciting enough to get any extra attention. The most common reason children throw tantrums, in addition to being sinful and selfish, is to get attention.
Don’t try to control everything. That’s not possible. Instead give up some control to keep the control you need. The best way to give up some control is through simple choices such as, “Do you want orange juice or apple juice?” Don’t give a choice you can’t live with. You can use what Love and Logic calls enforceable statements. Enforceable statements tell kids what we will do or allow rather than trying to tell them what to do. This approach gives some control to our children. Examples are: “I’ll listen as soon as your voice is as calm as mine” or “I’ll keep the toys I have to pick up and you can keep the ones you pick up.”
Choose your battles wisely. Does it really matter that his clothes don’t match? Our daughter, Amanda, once wore her wool hat and mittens in July and quickly figured out that they were not appropriate accessories for the season!
When you choose to draw a line, be empathetic but don’t give in or you’ll invite more tantrums. An understanding tone or look can go a long way when your child is frustrated. You can show empathy and still be firm. (We suspect your child may hear the firmness in his dad’s voice, but he hears the nice mommy voice from you.) Phil said I used my “junior high no nonsense teacher voice” when I meant business.
Our parting advice is to persevere. Nothing works flawlessly or all the time, so keep practicing these and other suggestions you pick up from experienced parents you hang out with. Your son is smart, and he’ll soon catch on that tantrums don’t pay off.
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and two grandsons. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.