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Turning Tornadoes into Blue Skies: How to dissipate temper tantrums

Updated: May 21, 2020

“I want it NOW!” screamed the 11-year-old. Stomping, yelling, throwing, and slamming quickly followed. You know the routine.

Sound familiar?

Many parents excuse such outbursts as normal. “She’ll get over it in time,” they reason. If tantrums aren’t dealt with, however, they turn into habits, becoming a child’s default mode. They can quickly wreak havoc on your homeschool and family relationships.

Besides, “it's not about ‘outgrowing’ a tantrum,” says author Amy Wang, “but about learning how to handle anger and frustration.”

Anger narrows one’s focus. It can block out everything except the object of the anger. Ever try to reason with a child in the middle of a tantrum? She can’t “hear” a word you say. It can be tempting to avoid dealing with the outburst and hope it simply dissipates. Yet if a child is left to her own childish ways, the tantrum can turn into a full-blown tornado, which, in the long run, only hurts her and those around her.

Solution Part 1: In the tornado’s path

Nip the tantrum right away. Have your child go to another room by himself for a few minutes to cool off—10 minutes max. You don’t want to give him time to stew and strengthen the tornado forces.

Then deliver appropriate consequences. For example, if your child breaks something, he has to pay to fix or replace it. Homeschooler Tammy H. makes her kids scrub the toilets if they verbally disrespect anyone, i.e. use a “potty mouth.” Marina R., also a homeschooler, discourages door-slamming by replacing the action with a different action. If one of her kids slams a door, that child will find himself standing next to his mom, slowly, quietly opening and shutting the door ten times. This reinforces the desired behavior and the family’s standards of respecting people and property.

Solution Part 2: Blue sky moments

Managing anger is a life skill. Children aren’t born knowing how to do it; they need you to teach them. And it’s not a one-and-done lesson. Training a child to handle emotions is a long-term process that adjusts as the child matures.

The best way to do this is by taking advantage of your blue sky moments, those times with no tornado on the horizon, when all is well with the world. Use these normal, no-anger times to talk about healthy behaviors and plan for the inevitable storms.

First, have your child draw a picture of her perfect day. Use as much detail as possible. Post it where she’ll see it frequently.

Second, have her write two lists: 1) what she does when she’s angry and 2) what she does when things are going great. Discuss the lists. What are the consequences of her behavior: Did her temper tantrum get her what she wanted? Did it make the day worse? How does she feel about herself when she’s happy and when she’s mad?

Then expand the conversation to talk about how her actions effect family members and friends. Kids are self-centric. They need guidance to look beyond their own thoughts/feelings/desires and see the bigger picture. They need your help to realize their anger isn’t only about them.

Third, make a best-case list of ways to release the anger, things like running, jumping, dancing, singing.

Fourth, write a contract, with your child as the author. What does she agree to do when she gets angry? Have her pick a few responses from her best-case list. What do you agree to do when a tantrum ensues? Again, let her lead. The more control she has, the more willing she’ll be to adhere to the agreement. Plus it removes the rebellion aspect—"I won’t do it because Mom is making me.” Then sign and date the contract, make some copies (in case she is tempted to tear up the original when a tornado threatens), and post one where it can be read daily.

Realize that a lot of times there’s more behind the temper tantrum than what’s initially apparent. Your child could have experienced a disappointment or frustration earlier in the day, and now this one-more-thing sets him off. Children don’t always recognize when hurts pile up.

“Behavior is one thing, the heart is another,” Marina explains. “It’s often more difficult to express hurt than it is anger.” She suggests coloring or journaling as a safe way to get emotions out. In one family the daughter writes questions in a journal and leaves it in a special, designated place. Later her mom writes an answer and puts it back.

Here are some more ways to ingrain the positive on your child’s heart:

· Start each day by having your child tell what went well yesterday and why. It sets a positive tone for today.

· Discuss good character traits. Incorporate this into your daily learning. Spend 10 minutes talking about how to put a trait into action.

· “Catch” your child behaving well and praise him appropriately. Also praise his efforts. You’ll weigh his heart down and erode his self-image if you only ever point out his faults.

· Create a weekly chart to track his progress.

· Memorize Scriptures together.

· Role play. Practice responding in healthy ways to situations that usually trigger tantrums. (Parents need this, too!)

· Be a good role model. Work on your own trigger points so your kids see you handling anger in a healthy way.

Working on the anger issue with your child can help him realize he’s not alone, he’s part of a team; and he’s not helpless to change, things can get better. With regular practice, your family can experience less tornadoes and more blue skies.


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