how to respond to kids' tantrums

Quick Tips on Taming Tantrums

Sep 23, 2019

Tantrums can be very disruptive for parents and for children, especially if they happen to occur while you’re out in public. Even the most seasoned special needs parents can get frustrated at the oncoming event of a tantrum, but having the right behavior correcting strategies can help both parent and child get through it as best they can. 

Tantrums and Meltdowns: What’s the Difference? 

First, it’s important to learn the difference between tantrums and meltdowns. A tantrum needs an audience; it’s acting out with a specific goal in mind and occurs out of frustration from not getting what they want at that moment. Tantrums often occur less frequently as a child grows up, but meltdowns are a result of overwhelm from sensory overload.

Children with autism can have classic temper tantrums, but knowing the difference will help parents and caregivers respond in the best way. With this in mind, here are some strategies for tantrums for children with autism and other special needs.

Redirect the Behavior – Try to redirect the behavior at the onset, if possible. Once you recognize that a tantrum is about to occur, immediately redirect the child’s behavior to something else.

Provide a Safe Environment – To ensure your child doesn’t harm him or herself or other people or things during the tantrum, make sure to get to a safe environment. 

Use Signal Phrases – Help your child calm and organize his or her own behavior by using their own signal phrases. For example, encouraging your child to say, “Not yet,” or “I’ll wait,” to internalize their directions. These phrases empower a child rather than controlling them. This can be the difference between you telling your child to wait and him telling himself that he has to wait. 

Use Visual Cues and Cards – Visual cues may help children who have difficulty verbalizing their needs. Using photos and image cards that include directions such as stop, quiet, wait and other cues can help a child learn expectations. 

Use Counting as a Strategy – Counting can be a great strategy for some children to help them calm down. With some practice, some kids may be able to redirect or stop their own behavior within the count of one or two. When using this strategy, avoid any other words or or distractions and when you get to your end number, follow through with a firm consequence. 

Withholding Attention – This approach requires parents to continue as if nothing is wrong, giving the child no feedback, positive or negative. While this can require several tries before it takes effect, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re ignoring the behavior, not the child. 

Maintain Your Own Focus: For parents, staying focused on correcting the behavior without becoming overwhelmed can be difficult, especially if the tantrum occurs out in public. While it may seem impossible considering the high emotions that are fueling the behavior, responding with the same high emotions can feed the behavior. 

Teach Firm Consequences – Make consequences for tantrums quick and meaningful to ensure that the child recognizes and understands that the tantrum will not result in giving them what they want. 

Innovative Behavior Options can help parents and caregivers with training to help empower you to know what to do in various situations with their children. We can work with you to come up with learning opportunities to help your child master tantrum-taming strategies more quickly. 

If you’re looking for strategies to help tame tantrums for your special needs children, we can help. Contact our office to learn more about correcting behaviors with ABA therapy. 



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