Dealing with temper tantrums in school aged kids is something that can be so challenging- often because it’s unexpected! We might expect to have to deal with tantrums from a toddler, but we kind of hope kids grow out of it by the time they hit school!
In many cases, this just isn’t what happens. Temper tantrums are not uncommon in school aged kids. It’s difficult because we want our kids to be able to rationalise, talk it through, and show a little more control.
There’s no hard and fast age that a child will stop having tantrums. However, as parents, we need to adapt and change how we respond. A toddler will often have a tantrum because they’re upset, tired or even just hungry, but they often don’t have the words to express themselves. Instead, they express themselves through behaviour.
But a school-aged kid does have the words to express themselves, right?
Not necessarily! Tantrums, even in an older child, are still a communication. Knowing what they’re communicating through the behaviour will be a big part in how you respond.
What’s the reason for tantrums?
There are lots of reasons that an older child might have a tantrum. It might be associated with an underlying condition such as ASD or ADHD, FASD… you get the picture. But if it isn’t, it might be because:
- Your child is having issues in another area of life- e.g. trouble in school or with friendships.
- Maybe your child is feeling anxious or worried about something.
- Or it might be that they are dealing with changes in life.
All of these examples have one thing in common: your child is learning to handle complex emotions.
This is not something that happens instantly. It takes a lot of coaching, practice and reassurance to develop a child’s emotional literacy. But this is often the key to responding and dealing with tantrums in school-aged kids.
3 Tips for Dealing with Tantrums in School Aged Kids
Remember that all the work in dealing with your school aged kid’s tantrum is done outside of the tantrum time.
1. BE CALM AND CONSISTENT- MODEL THE BEHAVIORS YOU WANT TO SEE
Research shows that your ability to self-regulate plays a big part in teaching your kids how to do it! You might need to make this obvious. When something upsets you, express it and how you are able to use self-talk to calm down and self-regulate.
You could say, ‘wow that’s so frustrating. It makes me feel upset. But it’s OK, I can take some deep breaths and I’m going to sit outside to make myself feel better.’
Another way to think of this is to ‘live out loud.’ This is invaluable modelling and coaching or your kids. You are showing them that the emotions are normal and a part of life- everyone feels upset, angry or frustrated. But you are also showing them that it’s important to take steps to calm down.
Build a Positive Relationship
Your positive relationship with your school aged kid when dealing with a tantrum is paramount! When they know that you love them, want them best for them, understand that they have complex emotions, and want to support them, they will be much more likely to discuss and figure things out with you.
You can invest in your positive relationship with your child in lots of ways- sometimes the little ones have the biggest impact. When you listen to your child, stay calm with them, praise them, and show you love them and will care for them, you are building the strong foundation needed to tackle tricky behaviour issues.
2. MAKE A CALM DOWN PLAN TOGETHER
Giving ownership to your child is an important step of dealing with a tantrum in your school aged child. When they’re calm, you will be able to talk to them and do coaching as to how they can cope with their emotions. One one to do this to make a Calm Down Plan together.
It’s vital that this is their plan- not one that’s imposed on them. Only they truly know how they feel and in the end, self-regulating is a life skill that they will ultimately be doing on their own.
To make your plan, talk very specifically about what things upset them, how it makes them feel, and what they can do to calm down. Hopefully they can suggest an activity to do that helps them to feel calm, or even a place to go.
Suggest a phrase that your child can tell themselves in this time and if they agree- put it in the plan. It might be, ‘what he says can’t make me lose my cool’ (you’ll need to adjust this so it’s relevant and appropriate for your child! A positive self-talk message that they can use can be incredibly powerful.
It’s important that you come to an agreement on all the details of the Calm Down Plan.
Prepare and Practice Your Plan
Remember that the more you chat about it and do a walk through when your child is calm, the better chance they will have of being able to use these strategies when they’re about to lose their temper.
An example of a calm down plan might be that they’ve identified that a particular sibling rubs them up the wrong way and makes them feel angry. The plan might be to go to another place and do an activity that they enjoy on their own- maybe getting their bike to go for a ride and calm down, or going to a quiet space and reading. Whatever your child enjoys!
Of course, this needs to be within the boundaries you set. If they are having a tantrum to avoid eating at the table because they want to play on the iPad, you might say you understand that it makes them upset but you have some things that you expect them to do. The plan might be that if they sit at the table, they can choose an activity afterwards. Give a choice of three that you are happy for them to do but that you know will motivate them.
Be Specific and Consistent
Set out the specific times that they can use the iPad and then be extremely consistent! This is important- if you relax your expectation for one day then it is easy to see why your child might be upset that you change your mind again the very next day.
Being ‘boringly consistent’ will be a massive help in dealing with a school aged child’s temper tantrums! Consistency means they know what to expect so negative behaviours and tantrums can be hugely reduced.
Make sure you write the plan down! Walk it through together when your child is calm and happy. Review how it went. Adapt it together if needed. All of these things will make the plan a living plan. This is the only way it will work. If you discuss it once and never again, it won’t be used. I would even recommend letting your child write it out and keeping it (you might take a note of it so you can support them), as in the end it’s their plan.
Praise them when they follow the plan!! This is vital. Be specific about how you saw the effort they made to calm themselves down, and how they took actions to self-regulate and not lose their temper.
3. TEACH YOUR CHILD TO EXPRESS THEIR EMOTIONS
Help your child to develop a growth mindset so they are able to take risks, cope with setbacks and failure, and continue to persist. A growth mindset helps them to enjoy the process of trying, learning and improving instead of the result. A big part of this is how you praise them. Try to praise them for the process instead of the result. Instead of, ‘wow, you’re so smart’ you could say, ‘it was great how you kept going until you finished it’ or ‘It was fantastic how you problem-solved those tricky ones.’
Build your child’s Emotional Vocabulary by labelling and teaching emotions. This is absolutely crucial not only for dealing with your tantrums in your school aged kids, but for all of their life.
Emotional literacy is a protective factor for your child. Poor emotional literacy is linked to early dropout from school and engagement with youth justice!
When you label your child’s emotions, you are giving them ‘emotional coaching’. This means that you are teaching them how to identify their emotions and also what they can do about it. Labelling emotions is the first step to understanding them- this is something that every single human needs to learn how to deal with.
For example, you might say, ‘it sounds like that made you anxious,’ or ‘you seem really frustrated about that.’
These are some emotions you might label: Mad/ Angry/ Embarrassed/ Pleased/ Proud/ Worried/ Frustrated/ Happy/ Calm/ Confident/ Patient/ Jealous/ Caring/ Forgiving/ Helpful/ Sad/ Proud/ Excited
AND THAT’S IT!
I hope you found some tips to try that will help when dealing with your school aged child’s tantrums. It’s challenging and can be slow progress, but implementing these things will make a difference!
Remember that when you see progress to continue with the plan! Your child will still need specific praise for their positive behaviours. Be careful not to drop off from using strategies when the tantrums reduce.
Good luck and let me know in the comments how you are dealing with school-aged kids tantrums.
Thanks for reading and please share this post if you found it helpful!
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