How Parents Make Temper Tantrums Worse

Avoid these mistakes that can make temper tantrums worse.
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While temper tantrums aren’t the worst behavior problem to deal with, frequent and unpredictable outbursts can definitely disrupt your day.

Every child goes through stages where temper tantrums are common. But knowing every parent has to deal with them at one time or another doesn't always decrease the embarrassment you might experience when your children throw themselves down on the floor kicking and screaming in a public place.

In an attempt to put a stop to temper tantrums (and reduce the embarrassment and frustration), many parents use discipline tactics that actually make temper tantrums worse. Sometimes tantrums increase in frequency, and at other times, they become more aggressive in nature.

Many parents implement punishment strategies, believing they are using discipline. Punishment is about inflicting a penalty for wrongdoing. Discipline means "to teach." Many parenting techniques mistakenly focus on stopping a behavior, rather than teaching the child a skill (like how to regulate themselves when they are overwhelmed).

If your child is going through a stage where temper tantrums have become regular, avoid these five parenting mistakes that could make them worse.

1. Paying Attention to a Temper Tantrum

Attention reinforces behavior, even when it’s negative attention. Saying things like, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” or “Quit acting like a baby,” will only encourage your child to continue their temper tantrum.

Similarly, a parent who tries to reason with a child mid-tantrum provides reinforcement for the screaming to continue. Saying something like, “We’ll go to the park tomorrow,” or “I’m so sorry that you’re mad at me for saying you can’t have a cookie. Would you like an apple instead?” isn’t helpful either.

Ignoring is the best strategy to make a tantrum stop. Avert your eyes, pretend you can’t hear the screaming, and walk away if you have to, but make sure you don’t shower your child with any type of attention.

2. Consoling Your Child in the Midst of a Tantrum

If your child cries because they are genuinely sad, by all means, console them. But if they are pounding their fists into the floor because they don’t want to go to bed, consoling them will only reinforce this behavior.

Teach your child healthy ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. When your child uses socially appropriate ways to express feelings, provide reinforcement.

3. Giving In to Your Child’s Demands

Sometimes parents give in to tantrums out of sheer desperation to make the screaming stop. But each time you say, “OK, fine. Eat another cookie!” in an attempt to get your child to calm down, you teach them that temper tantrums are an excellent way to get what they want.

They will learn to throw bigger, longer, and louder tantrums in the future. Even if you only give into temper tantrums once in a great while, your child will learn that tantrums are a powerful way to get what they want.

4. Warning Your Child Repeatedly

Making threats you don't plan to follow through with isn't helpful. Repeating your warnings can also backfire. Saying, “Stop screaming or you’ll have to sit in the car,” over and over again, without actually placing your child in the car, shows them that you don’t actually mean what you say.

If you’re in a situation where ignoring isn’t the best course of action—like in the midst of a holiday meal with family—give your child a consequence. Place your child in a separate room for a time-out if necessary. Take away privileges if your child’s misbehavior is disruptive to others.

Consider the tantrum as a way for your child to communicate their unmet needs. Rather than seeing the tantrum as an undesirable behavior, use it as a form of communication. Tantrums are developmentally appropriate and not unusual.

5. Bribing Your Child

Sheer desperation can lead to bribery. A mortified parent who wants their child to get up off the grocery store floor may be tempted to say, “I’ll buy you a toy if you promise to get up.” But bribing your child will only encourage them to throw more frequent tantrums.

Rewards aren't the same as bribes. Offering upfront rewards can be helpful. Simply stating, "When you stand up and walk, then we can look at getting a treat" will cue the child to consider making a different choice.

For example, before entering a store, say, “If you use an inside voice and have a good attitude at the store today, I’ll give you a sticker.” But make it clear that throwing a temper tantrum won’t be rewarded.

Put an End to Temper Tantrums

If you’re prone to making any of these mistakes, it’s essential to use discipline strategies that will put an end to temper tantrums fast. Behavior modification is an effective way to prevent your child from throwing a fit when they don’t get their way. It’s also important to teach your child socially appropriate ways to express anger and help them gain the mental strength to deal with their feelings in a healthy manner.

Although tantrums are not pleasant for parents, they are not pleasant for children either. Your child does not enjoy losing control physically and emotionally. Since children are still learning about limits, social interactions, and how to get their needs met, they will be triggered when things are off-balance. Keep in mind that tantrums are actually developmentally appropriate, expected for many young children, and will eventually decrease in severity and length as you respond in effective ways.

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