How can I stop my child from having temper tantrums?

Dear Acenda,

My son is in the third grade, and his school has adopted a hybrid in-person/virtual schooling approach. I've begun to notice that on scheduled in-person learning days, he often throws temper tantrums in the morning, having a complete meltdown when it's time to leave for school. I'll be honest, I've caved a few times and let him stay home, but now it's getting out of control. When he does attend school in person, his teacher has called home a few times to alert me that he's been acting out in the classroom. I have an 18-month-old at home as well, and I feel like I'm hanging on by a thread and I don't want to take my frustration out on my children. How can I help my son?

Tired of Tantrums

Dear Tired of Tantrums,

Although throwing temper tantrums may seem like willfully bad behavior, many children actually use acting out as a way to communicate what they're feeling in the only way they know how. It seems as though your son may not be handling the transition back into school well, and he may be having meltdowns in response to fear or frustration.

indian family helping daughter temper tantrum
Follow these 4 tips on how to approach temper tantrums and get the help your child may need.

1. Understand the triggers. The first step of addressing tantrums is to understand them. There is often an underlying reason your child is acting out, ranging from inability to communicate their needs to a serious mental health condition. To understand what is triggering your child's tantrums, take note of the situations and behaviors before, during, and after the outburst. This will help you get a better understanding of the catalyst. For your son, it's possible that the act of going to school may be a trigger.

2. Don't reinforce behavior. Temper tantrums are often reoccurring due to learned behavior. If you give into your child's outburst and let him stay home from school, he then learns that acting this specific way gives him the outcome he wants. Temper tantrums are often a cry for attention, and giving your child any sort of attention, positive or negative, is proven to reinforce this misplaced behavior. Therefore, ignoring the behavior is the best route to go.

3. Model calm behavior. Children base their actions on the adults surrounding them, as they are taught that their parents and elders are role models. This means that it's essential for you as a parent to model the same calm behavior that you'd like your child to exhibit. If you're feeling frustrated or upset, take the time to practice self soothing breathing techniques. When your child sees how you react to intense emotions, they will likely follow suit.

4. Seek professional help. If you suspect that your child's temper tantrums are a manifestation of a mental health condition, it may be best to seek professional help. Some causes of tantrums include ADHD, anxiety, depression, or learning problems. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is one option that teaches parents how to effectively interact with their child to reduce undesirable behaviors.

This is a tough time for all of us. Children may be acting out in response to the unknown of the future. Clinicians in our Counseling & Wellness Centers are here to support you or your child through this difficult period.

Call our main number at 844-4-ACENDA (844-422-3632 x9500) for more information or to schedule an appointment.