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 when your child throws himself 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.

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 his 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 he’s genuinely sad, by all means, console him. But, if he’s pounding his fists into the floor because he doesn’t want to go to bed, consoling him will only reinforce his misbehavior.

Teach your child healthy ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. When your child uses socially appropriate ways to express his feelings, provide reinforcement. But when he’s trying to get attention or when he’s trying to manipulate you, don’t offer any consolation.

3. Giving Into 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 him that temper tantrums are an excellent way to get what he wants.

He’ll 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 his tantrums are a powerful way to manipulate you into giving him what he wants.

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 shows your child 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.

5. Bribing Your Child

Sheer desperation can lead to bribery. A mortified mother who wants her 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 him to throw more frequent tantrums.

Rewards aren't the same as bribes. Offering upfront rewards can be helpful. Make your child behave first before he earns the reward.

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 he doesn’t get his way. It’s also important to teach your child socially appropriate ways to express his anger and help him gain the mental strength to deal with his feelings in a healthy manner.

In the meantime, be patient. Like all other phases, temper tantrum phases will pass as well.

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