Tantrum Management: More Ways to Overcome the Language Barrier by Dr. Kim Masters

In the previous issue, I pointed out that language comes late to children and is preceded by impulse and sensory input.

For adults, these elementary communication skills have long since been replaced by words. So why, I asked, should it be a surprise when our children greet our disciplinary instruction with whining, defiance, or outright screaming fits?

In the September issue, I outlined how to ask your child to repeat what you just said and how to teach your child to understand your facial gestures.

Here are two more approaches for transforming a tantrum into constructive verbal communication:

Coaching Self Talk
The goal of discipline is to teach self-control and self-soothing. Where better to learn that than in managing unwelcome interruptions of activities or unwanted consequences for misbehavior.

Although this strategy will fail if tried in the midst of defiance, it is a great prevention tool. For example, if a child became irritable or angry when refused candy, one calming possibility would be to teach a fixit song.

You could teach a song that your child could sing either inside one’s mind or out loud. For example, “Saving up the candy . . . leaves a treat for later.” With your child, you can make a great song that will be remembered fondly for years to come . . . and teach lasting self-control.

Replaying Solutions
One goal of language is to help plan actions. To teach this worthy objective, parents can use dramatic play to avoid tantrums and whining.

Usually defiant behavior repeats itself, which makes it so trying on one’s nerves. Stopping the pattern requires teaching new irritability coping tools.

Using puppets, made from old socks stuffed with tissue and faced with colored markers, provides the actors a great story telling time. The parent and child can take turns playing the puppets as “the angry child” and “the direction-giving parent.” The play ends when the child figures out how to follow the direction without a meltdown.

Successful puppet plays can be the early examples of rehearsing for other activities like drama performances, music recitals, sporting events, or even class presentations.

Hopefully, these suggestions can make management of defiant children more creative and less trying.