The Skillful Art of Responding to Preschool Tantrums

by Abby Woodhouse on July 3, 2017

The Skillful Art of Redirecting Preschool Tantrums.jpgI knew my parents couldn't do anything, so I sat down in the middle of the store and started to scream. This sent them into a full scurry and ended in me getting the toy I wanted in the first place. I'm sure I'm not the only one to use this strategy as a child. 

Children through tantrums for a variety of reasons:

  • to express frustration
  • to demand attention
  • to get a toy or other object
  • to escape or delay some undesirable activity or consequence

A tantrum gives a preschooler a very real sense of control. It gives them an advantage; it gives them leverage. How can we as parents learn to respond to those tantrums in a helpful way?

Here are four helpful principles to remember when responding to preschool tantrums. 

1. Be Consistent

A report put out by the National Association of School Psychologists states, "Tantrums tend to occur when children lack daily routines, when they are expected to change activity without warning, or when they lack the skills needed to meet adult expectations."

Whether with scheduling, routines, or discipline, children respond best to structure. Be consistent with your discipline and keep a steady set of routines as a way to help prevent tantrums and deal with them when they arise.

2. Choose Your Battles

Not every tantrum is worth fighting. For instance, sometimes children throw tantrums to ensure the boundries you have set are still present. On the other hand, sometimes if your child went to bed late or didn't each much, they will just be more prone to tantrums.

Take the circumstance into account when responding to your preschooler. You will train your children by your response as much as by your words. Choose your battles wisely.

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3. Triage Levels

The type of tantrum will demand a different response. When patients enter a hospital emergency room, the staff assess them using a triage system. The most serious cases are treated first and the least serious cases are treated last. 

Keep this simple tantrum triage system in mind.

  1. Level 1: Hitting
  2. Level 2: Screaming
  3. Level 3: Stubborn Refusal

If your child is hitting you or someone else, you must deal with this immediately by removing your child from the situation. On the other hand, if they're simply sitting on the ground refusing to take any action, you may respond differently—say, by ignoring their tantrum. 

4. Prayer

Like with any aspect of parenting, we need divine help to respond appropriately to tantrums. Make it a pattern to pray daily for wisdom when responding to on-the-spot parenting decisions like tantrums.

Following the example of Nehemiah, pray in the moment while you're assessing the situation and deciding on a course of action. After you've dealt with the tantrum, take a moment to thank God for his wisdom or pray together with your preschooler if you've had to discipline him.  

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