Dealing with Tantrums


How often do you go to a supermarket and witness a child screaming and throwing themselves to the ground? These meltdowns or tantrums are common in children aged under 5 so how are we supporting the children in their learning and development and how do we deal with such meltdowns or tantrums at the centres?

Tantrums are described as “an episode of extreme anger and frustration characterized by crying, screaming, and violent body motions, including throwing things, falling to the floor, and banging one's head, hands, and feet against the floor.

There are many strategies that can be used to deal with tantrums, below are some of the strategies we are using to support the children cope with frustrating situations.

Routines - To avoid or minimise the meltdowns at both centres, we have regular routines where we aim to have a calm environment with predictable and clear consistent expectations. In our group meetings at the beginning of the day, we have conversations about positive behaviour and what our day would look like so the children know what is expected of them. If unwanted behaviour arises, we revisit these conversations with the concerned child.

Relationships - We have responsive and reciprocal interactions with the children that allows us to get to know each child. Knowing each child gives us the opportunities to develop individualised experiences within our programs where we follow their interests and allow for independent exploration. Opportunities for independent exploration are supporting children to cope with frustration as they have control of their play experiences and enhances sense of self-worth and confidence.

Planned Transitions - We have developed transition procedures between routines to minimise frustrations when children move from one experience to another. Sometimes changes from one routine to another can trigger frustrations if enough warning is not given – a child engaged in play in the sandpit making a birthday cake can get frustrated when asked to go for a nappy change without prior warning. We support the children to cope with change by giving them enough time to process the expectation on them and the time to finish what they are doing. We find that letting the child know what we are going to do: ‘I am coming to take you for a nappy change once you finish what you are doing’ often removes the chance of a tantrum.

Partnerships - working in partnership with the parents is our biggest asset. The more we share information about what triggers tantrums and what strategies works, the more effective we are in dealing with meltdowns. Through conversations with parents, we know what triggers most of the frustrations and more importantly, we can provide consistent strategies to help the children cope with frustrating situations both at and away from the centre.

Language Development - tantrums are often trigged by a breakdown of communication due to language barriers. Supporting the children’s language development is crucial in providing a child with the necessary skills to be able to manage their frustration and hence reduce the chance of a tantrum. A child’s desires are often ahead of their language and physical capabilities so by supporting children’s language development, we are empowering them with confidence and ability to express thoughts and feelings. When the child is frustrated, we acknowledge the feeling and support the child with appropriate language to use under the circumstances. ´I can see you are sad but we need to ask Peter “may I have a turn after you?” As a child grows older and their language and cognitive skills increase the number of tantrums start to decrease as they are able to express how they are feeling in more calm ways instead. The programmes at both centres support language and speech development that is appropriate for the various age groups to help them manage these big feelings.

Distraction - if we can see a child’s frustration building we try to remove the child out of the situation before a tantrum takes place. Some of the strategies we use can be watching the fish or chickens, reading a book, music and dance activity or ask them to help the educators and provide them some responsibilities.

As each child is unique, one blanket doesn’t fit all. We use all these different strategies depending on the child and situation.