As parents, it is important to know how to spot a temper tantrum in a child and evaluate the correct course of action. Many parents wonder how they should deal with older kids who throw temper tantrums and it essentially requires a strategy that diffuses the situation.
How you approach this problem will develop their ability to appropriately control their emotional state in the long run.
At the age of five, your child’s understanding of their emotional states should already be starting to develop. The process of emotional regulation is directly related to how the child’s emotional reactions are consistently treated.
In early childhood, especially before they are actively participating in school and social activities, it is slightly more difficult for a child to incorporate emotional regulation. This is due to the child not having a full grasp of the concept of cause and effect.
Your child develops this understanding from parental consistency. If every time the child throws a screaming fit in a store the parent promises them something to keep them from causing a scene, that child will believe that behavior is the best way for them to get something.
This is commonly called rewarding bad behavior, but there are other ways in which what the parent does can directly contribute to the continuation of temper tantrums.
Why do children throw temper tantrums in busy supermarkets? They were told they couldn’t have that candy they saw as you passed by? You’re shopping and not giving them your undivided attention?
Kids throw temper tantrums in stores because it is a public place and they know that the parent’s reaction will be different from what it might be at home. Some will promise children anything their heart desires or simply give in to their demands to keep from the disapproving stares of strangers.
While you might be getting a content child from the grocery aisle to the car, what the child is learning is that they can get rewarded by acting up in public places.
Although one might think that the polar opposite of giving your child a reward for their bad behavior would be punishing them for it, it really isn’t. To punish or threaten will only lend to enhancing the negative emotions that are driving the bad behavior.
Children’s emotions are the same as adult emotions, only under-developed. An angry child, threatened with punishment, may become increasingly angry. They might break out into tears, creating an entirely different sort of tantrum, or they might seek to make you feel bad for it.
Do children sometimes do things out of spite? Of course, they do! Threats of punishment may even escalate the tantrum and constant usage can tear a rift between you and your child.
There is a big difference between ignoring your child and ignoring negative behavior.
While refusing to provide any negative or positive attention to the tantrum can help some kids learn to deal with their own emotional response, if you don’t in some way validate their emotions, they will not learn to control what triggers them.
While ignoring the behavior may cause the child to realize they will not get attention for it, it also does not help them make the cause and effect connection.
You may be thinking: if not bribing them, punishing them, or ignoring them, what can I do?
Helping your child end temper tantrums starts with reframing how you view them and react to them.
We all want our children to grow to be successful, well-rounded adults. Part of that will be their emotional health and teaching them about emotional intelligence.
Temper Tantrum vs. An Emotional Outburst
Some parents might think they are the same thing, but they are very different. How you handle your child’s behavior will need to be different depending on what it is caused by.
An emotional outburst has to do with your child’s inability to correctly express an emotional state. Screaming, crying, and unwanted hostile behavior can be a manifestation of either a tantrum or outburst.
Outbursts can be caused by sensory overload or not being able to express their emotions effectively. They can be physically and emotionally drained from a very busy day or even feel sad over something and not understand how to process that feeling.
A temper tantrum, on the other hand, is a cognitive choice the child makes to act out when they are not getting something they want. An example of this could be the child wanting a toy, a treat, or your attention. When they don’t receive the item, they will act out.
When wondering how you should deal with an older kid who throws temper tantrums, you need to approach it with logic.
While an emotional outburst requires working with the child to recognize emotional triggers, talk about different emotions and how to express them appropriately, and practice emotional responses, a temper tantrum can also be a learning opportunity for your child.
A tantrum is a choice your child makes.
They believe that the best way for them to get what they want is to act in a certain way. Many times they take this belief from it having worked in the past which is why consistency is the best way to get tantrums to subside.
Since children absorb their environments like sponges, the most important thing for a parent to do is to keep themselves in a calm state.
When your child sees you react to their behavior, they instantly believe what they are doing is working. By keeping yourself calm, you are showing them how you also expect them to act.
There is a big difference, especially to a child, between a positively framed and a negatively framed statement.
For instance: “If you don’t stop yelling you don’t get to go play with your friends” has a different effect on them than “If you calm yourself down, you will be able to play with your friends later”.
In the first statement, the emphasis is on the negative behavior and the negative result, while the second focuses on the positive response of calming themselves down and the positive effect they want.
It is important to note that if the reward in the positive phrasing is the item or action that began the tantrum, your point has been lost to the child and they will believe that they got their way, reinforcing the behavior.
“I know that you are feeling angry because I wouldn’t buy that toy for you,” validates an emotion, “but yelling in the store is not going to change my decision” reinforces your position.
The child knows you understand the emotion and why they are acting that way, but also knows that you will not give in to the child’s tantrum.
By validating what emotion the child is going through as well as letting the child know that the behavior is not going to help them, you establish in the child that their tantrum (cause) will not effectively get them what they want (effect).
You expected a tantrum when you told your child they couldn’t get something they wanted, but instead the child was calm and responsive to you.
This shows that they are gaining emotional intelligence and you should show recognition of their growth.
Instead of continuing to throw a tantrum after you validated their emotions and explained the futility of their behavior, the child calmed themself down or redirected their attention on their own. This is great progress and deserves to be praised.
That sort of positive reinforcement will go a long way to preventing the issue in the future.
Being consistent is the only way to teach a child that tantrums will not have an effect on the situation. If the child believes they can manipulate the scenario with a tantrum, even if they know the outcome may be partially negative, the behavior will continue.
Follow the same steps each time, tweaking them to fit the specific situation. If the child already knows how you are going to react because you are consistent, it will detour them from starting a tantrum in the first place.
Final Thoughts – How should I deal with older kids (5-10) who throw temper tantrums
Trying to deal with an older kid who throws temper tantrums can be annoying especially if it is out in public. All you want to do is shop for your groceries in peace but your child is crying for a candy bar.
Approaching this with the proper strategy will save you time and effort. As much as you wish this does not happen, use it as a time to teach your child how to be emotionally stable.
Being a parent is not an easy task so it is okay if you are struggling with this scenario, all you need to do is implement the strategies above and keep trying to be the best parent possible.