A quick guide to managing tantrums in older kids

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Quick guide to managing tantrums in older kids

This quick guide to managing tantrums is part of our quick guide to life series. Short, sharp advice that tackles the pain points of parenting.

It felt weird at first to call an article “managing tantrums” on a parenting site for older kids. But if the way my 9-year-old carries on when she doesn’t get her way isn’t a temper tantrum, I don’t know what is. And when my 13-year-old totally loses it over nothing much whatsoever, that’s surely a temper tantrum that needs managing, right?

Sure, you can reason with a kid over the age of about three, but not much. Definitely not while they are in the middle of their hissy fit. When a kid gets going, it doesn’t matter how old they are, they are GONE.

It starts at around two and then we go on managing tantrums for the next 16 years or more (probably more). Nine-year-olds are bad, but they are really only just gearing up. Teens are bloody awful. And we’ve all seen a grown adult lose it from time to time. Yep, that was probably me.

Honestly, anytime a mum of younger kids says in a pleading kind of way, “I thought the tantrums finished after two” I just want to hold her tight and whisper that it’s all gonna be okay.

It’s all gonna be okay.

Here’s my current thinking on managing tantrums, the dos and don’ts and what has made a difference at our place. Bon chance, mothers everywhere. Bon chance.

Quick guide to managing tantrums in older kids - 5 steps to help them get things under control

1 x GAME CHANGER

Your life has a new soundtrack, and your name is now Renee:

The only way we are ever going to win at managing tantrums is to simply say “Your attitude and behaviour right now is unacceptable. Let’s talk about this later” and walk away, Renee. Don’t give the behaviour one moment of attention.

Note: it’s impossible to walk away when you are driving a car. So naturally that’s where our kid go the most batshit. All we can do is stoically sit there and try not to listen. Don’t make eye contact in the rear-vision mirror. Just focus on the road and endure it. Not easy, but a must.

2 x THINGS THAT MATTER

1. Be clear that the behaviour is unacceptable, but also understandable. It’s not okay for a kid to go ballistic when they don’t get their way or they don’t like something. Never okay. However, it’s hard being a kid and not feeling like you’re the one in charge of your own life. It’s hard for adults to remember what that feels like (wait a minute, isn’t that what work is for?), but believe me it is tough. When you later talk to your kid about their behaviour, let them know you understand, but you’re still not budging.

2. Talk strategies. Once things have calmed down, sit down with your child and talk through what happened. Ask her how she felt and why she reacted the way she did. Ask her what she might do differently next time. Strategies might include:

•  Heading out for a walk
•  Taking a deep breath and acknowledging anger, frustration, etc
•  Yelling into a pillow or off a cliff
•  Distract yourself with a book
•  Phone a friend to vent

3 x IMPORTANT RULES

1. Apologies are always necessary

2. Forgive yourself, we are all human

3. Keep working to find a better way to manage emotions

Tantrum

4 x THINGS TO DO RIGHT NOW

1. Make time to talk things through. Say to your child, “I’ve been thinking about the way you’ve been handling your emotions lately. Do you think you might need some help? What do you think we could do differently?”

2. Agree consequences. Work with your child to decide what the consequences will be if they continue to carry on like a three-year-old (and even if they are actually three years old). Be sure to praise him for wanting to change his behaviour, but be clear that this is something he needs help with along the way. You may choose to reward him for managing tantrums, rather than punish him for when he blows a fuse.

3. Manage sleep and rest. Sleep can make anger, irritation and frustration spill over far more quickly and brutally than if we are well-rested. So many of our kids are just flat-out tired. They live busy lives packed with stimulation and they find it hard to switch off to sleep or rest. Make sleep an absolute priority to help your child regulate her emotions.

4. Renee needs to be a role model. We can’t change our kids’ behaviour if we are guilty of exhibiting the exact same behaviour. I was such a massive yeller for a while there and my kids started to be yellers too. When I (mostly) stopped my silly tantrums, it gave me license to expect them to stop their tantrums too. To be honest, I still yell. Probably a lot. Much much less than I used to.

5 x RESOURCES

1.  Tiny Buddha: 20 things to do when you feel extremely angry with someone

2. WorkLife4U: Positive parenting strategies for the teenage years

3. ACECQA: Supporting children to manage their own behaviour

4. Montessori Notebook: Dealing with children’s tantrums

5. Zen Habits: Flowing with the stressors of kids (or anyone else)

What’s your best strategy for managing tantrums?

Image by Jerry Kiesewetter 

Written by Bron Maxabella

Bron is the founder of Mumlyfe and is so happy to welcome you here. Bron has been writing in the Australian parenting space as Maxabella for more than seven years and is mum to three mostly happy kids and wife to one mostly happy husband. Mostly happy is a win, right?

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I’m thinking of using the walk away Renee/ your behaviour is unacceptable with a grown man who has thrown his toys out of the pram… thank you for the suggestion

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    This is a great article and something that needs more discussion. For me, my 11yo boy who is usually gentle, quiet and reserved, can very quickly switch into a rage and becomes very physically threatening to his younger siblings. It’s scary even for me. The attitude is also ramping up, but it is the violence that worries me. Yet he’s up for cuddles way more often at the moment than he has been for a long time. (Bloody testosterone! Bloody hormones!) I’m definitely going to read the links. He is coming into an age where friends count more than family. Tiny buddha, please help me! Thanks again for starting this discussion.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      I know how tough it is, Nicola, and how scary. It’s awful to see such rage in our boys. I am researching the bejeezus out of this and talking to psychologist friends to pull together more info for all of us on how to handle it.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    I’m loving this article, thank you very much for it. I think I’ve got a long road ahead of me (3 children, nearly 11 & twin 8 year olds) especially with my daughter who is turning 9 this year, we’ve already had lots of tears about friends & wanting to change schools etc. This article has given me lots of tools I can use, thanks again.

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    Oh I love this. I have 18 year old and a 15 year old and thankfully it doesn’t happen all that often but they both still are very capable of a Tantrum when all seems unfair in there eyes. I ‘Walk away Renee’ every time. Gives them time to think about there actions and gives no attention to the performance. Once they have calmed down then you can discuss the issue without emotion getting in the way. Fastest and easiest solution I have found to the problem. Trying to keep your own frustration and emotion in check helps as well.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Great to hear from a mum a little further down the track than many of us, Helen. Thank you! More and more I am realising that our children feed off our own emotions. We stay calm, the situation stays calm. Then we can follow up later and actually have a conversation.

      Reply

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