Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Parenting 101
Taming Temper Tantrums

by Rebecca Todd

April 01, 2011

You’re running errands with your young child and want to squeeze in just one more stop. Dashing through the grocery store, you finally land at the check-out counter and that’s when it happens: your child has a meltdown.

Public temper tantrums are the ultimate nightmare for a parent. How do you handle it? The worst thing to do is let it get your temper to rise, thus reacting in an ugly manner yourself. Here are some tips for taming tantrums and keeping your cool.

Causes of Anger in Young Children

The first step to taming temper tantrums is to understand the cause. Anger in children is often caused by frustration. This frustration can be caused by many things such as exhaustion, anxiety and sadness. Children respond with tantrums because they don’t understand their feelings and have not yet learned how to express them. As parents, rather than responding to the tantrum, we should first try to understand the cause in order to better remedy the situation.

Christine Ogle Erotas R.N., M.S.N. was the first parent coach certified in Indiana and owns Work It Out Parent Coaching, L.L.C. She travels Indianapolis and the surrounding area as needed and holds workshops in various areas for parents and families as well.

“I’ve left a full cart of groceries and walked out of the store before,” said Erotas, who is also the mother of four and recommends walking away from tantrums. “Even if you are in a public place, responding to their actions could just make things worse.”

It’s best to remove yourself and your child from the situation and talk to them about their feelings in a private setting. Are they tired? Are they annoyed? Children have their own limits and frankly, we as parents sometimes expect more from them than they are able to give. Listening to a frustrated child and helping them talk about their feelings will drain the tension from the situation. Teach them the words they need to better express their feelings or more constructive ways to let it out.

Better yet, don’t over stress children by dragging them from place to place. Sure there are times it can’t be avoided. However, there are ways to make it more of an enjoyable experience for them.

“Make sure they are well rested and healthy before you take them out,” Erotas said. “And make it a game for them. Interact with them and make it fun.”

Building Security

Children often express anger when they are feeling helpless. Changes in living arrangements such as a divorce or a move can trigger anger issues, as can an unstable routine. Establishing a concrete routine is paramount to helping a child adapt and feel more in control of their surroundings. They need to know their boundaries and parents need to be consistent. Children feel security when they know what to expect.

CenterPoint Counseling is now offering a program called New Day for families of divorce in which children ages 3 through freshmen in high school and their parents attend as a family. Dinner is served in a family setting, and then the children are split into age appropriate groups to discuss different issues they may be facing. Children learn to express themselves and their anger in healthy ways and are given a format where they feel comfortable talking about their feelings.

Parents also attend information meetings and/or support groups during this time. “We address all the issues,” said Jennifer Murphy, coordinator of the New Day program. “One night the topic may be working with your ex and another night it might be about focusing on your children and the issues they are facing with the divorce.”

Classes are ongoing throughout the school year twice a month. Families can enter and exit the program as needed and stay as long as they feel it is necessary. For more information on New Day programs for families of divorce, visit or call (317) 252-5518.

Working Together

Another common problem is that the two parents may have different parenting styles; one may prefer routines while the other is more laid back. Unfortunately, this can often cause confusion in a child who may then act out. This example has often been exhibited on shows such as “Nanny 911” and “Super Nanny” where a third party goes in and tells the parents what they need to do.

As a parenting coach, Erotas’ technique is quite different. She encourages families to work together to find solutions to their problems and build on each other’s strengths rather than pointing fingers.

“Come up with some collaborative approaches that everyone is happy with,” she said. “In the long run, they will be longer lasting changes because everyone has come up with them in a collaborative approach instead of someone walking in and saying ‘you need to do this and this and this’ and then leaving.”

Expressing Anger

One of the best ways to help a child that is acting out or has anger issues is to help your child to understand their feelings. Anger is a normal emotion and does not need to be disciplined or shamed. There are healthy ways to express anger. If they don’t learn this, they can be in danger of hurting themselves or others.

It is also important to teach children different ways to express their anger. They can run, sing, draw or anything that helps them work out their frustration. Erotas also encourages getting out and exercising as well.

“Changing the activity level and getting fresh air can be very healing,” she said. Doing it as a family will also bring you closer.

Lastly, moderate your own behavior. Model the behavior you want your child to exhibit. If you yell and throw things when you are angry, you can expect the same behavior from your child. Take responsibility for your own anger and exhibit it in a positive, non-aggressive way. Let your child know that everyone gets angry, but show them how to express it in a more positive, controlled way.