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Tempering the Tantrum

Our expert moms tell the tricks of our trade

The fast-approaching holiday season brings many sources of joy for our families. But all the festivities—and accompanying goodies—have a dark side: tired, crabby kids. When you mix tired kids with new toys and sweets galore, often the result is one giant tantrum.

So we asked our CPT Expert Mom panel: How do you temper your kids' tantrums?

Make 'Em Laugh

I have to decide that I'll do my best not to lose my peace (or "cool") and that I will remain in control of my emotions so that the children don't have their behavior reinforced by my response to them. 

If I'm willing to invest the time and effort, I can coax my kids out of a tantrum by making them laugh. While laughing may minimize the lesson needing to be learned at that moment, sometimes laughter is what everyone needs. It releases those mood-elevating chemicals through the body. I've seen with my kids that a little diversion and laughter can go a long way.

—Michelle Bellavance

Buckle Up

Mostly, I try to ignore them. Otherwise, if we're at home and my son's having a huge temper tantrum, I just pick him up and carry him to his room for a time out. He usually settles down pretty quickly. If we're out and about, he takes his time out in the car. I buckle my son into his car seat and stand outside with my back to the minivan. That works really well.

The important thing is to not give in to a temper tantrum. I confess, however, that to avoid the tantrum, I sometimes give in to the preliminary whining—especially in public!

—Kathryn Bonnett

Pray Them Away

Sometimes just walking out of the room helps. But I usually try to think about what time of day it is: Is it naptime? Is my son tired? Hungry? Have I not spent enough time with him that day? This helps me understand the reason for the tantrum and affects how I handle it.

If worse comes to worst—I'm already losing my mind that day and my child's tantrum just won't end—I stop everything I'm doing and begin praying out loud. My son has stopped his tantrum cold to ask, "Mommy, what are you doing?" He then forgets his anger and starts giving me prayer requests!

—Beth Rowe

Keep Them at Bay

I try my best to keep tantrums from happening in the first place. I have three things on my "temper tantrum watch": sleepiness, boredom, and lack of attention from me. If I catch one of these early, I can usually keep moods from escalating. 

 But if a temper tantrum does occur, I try a variety of approaches depending on their ages. For example, when my older boys throw tantrums, we take consistent and immediate action. We usually send them to their rooms to reflect on their behavior. Afterward we talk about "heart" issues—what caused them to behave the way they did—so that they can see it from a biblical point of view and ask for forgiveness. 

—Sarah Biele

Boycott the Performance

Really, it all depends on where and when the tantrum happens.

Lately, with my preschooler, I ignore her and let her know that her behavior won't work with me. When that fails—and many times it does—I'll pick her up, put her in her room, and shut the door. Taking away her audience seems to cool down her "performance."

If we're in public when the tantrum demon strikes, and if ignoring it doesn't make it go away, I'll take her to the car for a cool down. But thankfully our kids' tantrums mostly happen at home, away from prying and judging eyes. 

—Danielle Hokanson

Teach the Moment

I try to use their tantrums as an opportunity to explain that it's okay to express how you feel as long as you do it respectfully. It's okay if you get frustrated or even a little loud when you are truly upset, but it's not okay to do or to say something hurtful. If my children go too far, they go to their room. When they come out, we try to talk it over more calmly. If they're extremely disrespectful and refuse to calm down, we move up their bed times in 15-minute intervals until they start behaving again. (That's usually very effective!)

—Laura Polk

Take Responsibility

When the root of the tantrum is a major meltdown resulting from stress and fatigue, I try to handle it with understanding and patience. These happen when we have been running errands all day, skipped a nap, are late for a meal, or when bedtime has been late for a few nights. While there are still basic boundaries (no hurting anyone, disrespectful talk, etc.), I don't generally punish these tantrums. I am partially responsible for pushing them beyond their ability to cope.

But if my preschooler throws a tantrum just to get his way, I usually spank him calmly and put him on his bed with a timer set. (I realize that spanking is a highly personal decision and this solution won't work for some families.) After the timer goes off, if he feels ready to cooperate, he may come downstairs and join the family. It's important that he sees that I'm not angry or upset. If he comes downstairs in a surly, disrespectful mood, he goes back to his room. If he can behave cheerfully and appropriately, I put the tantrum behind me and move on.

—Lori Rose

Give It Time

My little girl is a bit young for temper tantrums. At 10 months, I'm still able to divert her attention rather quickly. For instance, right now she really wants to help me write this answer. Since she just wants my attention, I'm going to stop and give it to her. As for dealing with her temper later on, I'm hoping to hear hints from other moms.

—Lee Ann Laird

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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