Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dealing With Tantrums


Handling tantrums is not the easiest part of parenting. Wouldn't it be great if there was a manual somewhere that said something along the lines of "do this and there will never be another tantrum in your home"? Yeah, I think so, too. But there isn't.

Lots of people have ideas about how to handle temper tantrums. From spanking to ignoring, everyone sounds so knowledgeable and authoritative. But really, I think they're all just guessing. They're giving information to the general population, and it may be valuable, but I think this is one area where parents really have to balance what the experts say, with what they know about their kids.

In our family, we have two boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders. With our older son, we didn't even know he was on the spectrum until he was 10 years old. For that reason, as well as many others, I don't like spanking as an option. If I didn't know Ciaran had Autism, and used spanking to curb his tantrums, I could actually be doing damage to him, even with the best of intentions.

So, here's what I've decided. The experts whose advice I respect, suggest ignoring the average temper tantrum. And, honestly, that's what we experience around here. Average temper tantrums. But I judge each tantrum on it's own merits and based on which child is throwing it.

If the tantruming child is Piper or Bridget, they will be warned to stop and given a consequence if they don't. They are older, they know what they're doing, and they can control themselves. With Ciarain, I look at why he's throwing the tantrum. If there may be something else wrong, I'll try to fix it. Maybe he's thirsty. Maybe he needs a snack. I don't give in to tempter tantrums, but I don't always ignore it, either. Ciaran doesn't know how to work it out. He needs help. So, if there's no way to meet an underlying need, and I can't give in, I'll often hold him on my lap in a steady squeeze until he can start to calm down. With Quinn, I can usually stop a tantrum by distracting him with something else.

I think it's fair to use our intuitive understanding and innate knowledge of our children to help us make the decision regarding the best way to handle behavior like this. I haven't banished tantrums from my home. I'm not a perfect mom and I don't have perfect kids. At the same time, my kids aren't rewarded for that kind of behavior and it's not overlooked. But we choose to handle it in a way that respects our children and best helps them to learn other behaviors. And I'm comfortable with that.


  1. Great Article Anne our oldest son had bacterial meningitis as an infant and had seizures afterwards as well as some delays and a mild brain injury. At 2 years old he had nuclear tantrums they were so bad we actually qualified for respite care through the state to have some one come to our house so that we could get a break!! Spanking would not be an option for him as well since alot of what was happening was not really your typical toddler rebellion. We did much of the same we tried to figure out first why the tantrum was happening and then from there chose our means of handling it! Thanks for sharing ~Heather

  2. Great post Anne. Now, Can I throw a tantrum!?

  3. I've certainly considered it a few times this week, Kimberly.

    Heather, thanks for sharing your experience. Your story is another great example of why I balk at those whose parenting methods center almost exclusively around physical punishment and physical training.

  4. So glad to be past those years!

    You are such a good mommy! (Please don't mind if I say this often...I mean it!)

    Praying you are feeling better!


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