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Taming the Tantrums - It Starts with Parenting Skills

By Yvette Vignando - 24th November 2011

Yale University Parenting Center is recognised for its invaluable research and support for parents  - Professor Kazdin from the Center has recently been spreading the word about some basic parenting skills that will help you to deal with your child's tantrums. Yvette Vignando spoke on The Morning Show on Channel 7 and shared some of this information - it is based on over 30 years of research.

Professor Kazdin, head of the Yale Parenting Centre has emphasised that reward charts, stickers and points programs are not going to help parents to reduce children's tantrums in the long term. This matches other research that tells us children need to learn to behave well without being rewarded. But giving children plenty of attention and affection when they are behaving well can have a positive effect on children's behaviour and the frequency of tantrums.

Tantrums occur because children often have strong feelings about a situation and these feelings get the better of them - they end up feeling 'out of control'. You can read more about this in a series of interviews with Professor Havighurst from Monash University here and here. Genetics and temperament can also contribute to the frequency and intensity of children's tantrums.

To change a child's behaviour, often parents have to change their own behaviour, not only by role modeling but also by learning the best ways to react during a tantrum. It also helps to teach children to express their feelings differently - this is done at a time when children are calm.

Some important ideas for parents about dealing with and reducing tantrums include:

  • Remain calm and close by your child during a tantrum - do not raise your voice or get physical with your child.
  • Don't try to reason with your child during a tantrum; if he is young, you may wish to try distraction or soothing techniques.
  • Use empathy - for example, tell your child that you see that he is angry, or he is upset: "Adam, I can see you are angry and disappointed - you want to keep watching television.",  but do not give him positive consequences or rewards for the behaviour e.g. do not offer him a lollipop if he calms down. For more on empathy being critical for taming tantrums see here and here.
  • Give your child plenty of specific praise when they are behaving well, playing nicely or when they have reacted well to something. So, instead of saying "Good boy", you might say "You have played so nicely with your brother, sharing the toys and having fun, well done."
  • Make sure you have age appropriate rules and expectations for your children; and be consistent with any mild consequences.

Sometimes parents need to seek professional help. Signs that you may need some guidance from an expert include:

  • when your child is harming herself or others during a tantrum
  • if tantrums are frequent or intense, or are getting more frequent
  • if you, the parent, feel out of control and 'desperate' when your child is having a tantrum.

And here's a video on Tips for Reducing Toddler Tantrums

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