Challenging Situations-The Tantrum

Children have tantrums all the time. It's part of being a child. The key, for all adults, is to not give in. But, what do you do if a tantrum comes out in the classroom? I'm not talking about your typical "crying-because-I-didn't-get-my-way" tantrum. No, I'm talking about that rolling, kicking, screaming, throwing things tantrum!

Here's the scenario:
You are getting your class lined up to go outside. There are 11 children present, you run a 1:8 ratio, and one child (Angelica) is asked to put her shoes on. This isn't an option, the rule is that shoes must be worn outside.

Let me preface this first by saying, personally, I don't make shoes on a battle I'm willing to get into. She will find out quickly when she goes outside that she needs to wear her shoes because the ground is hot. I will ask her to bring her shoes outside just in case she wants to put them on later. However, I do know that at some schools this is a really issue. Besides the ground being hot there are tricycles out there that will run over toes and things. So, depending on the yard and the school, I base my battle accordingly.

Now, back to that "battle". There is no choice about it, shoes must go on. She is told, "You can't go outside until you put your shoes on." Now the struggle begins. Angelica crosses her arms in front of her and plops herself on the floor and shouts, "NO!" When she sees the teacher isn't going to budge she begins her full blown tantrum. She rolls, the teacher is close by so she kicks at her, and she is screaming! You now have 10 children waiting to go outside, and one in a tantrum. It's not fair to ask the other children to wait it out, so here's what to do:

Send the assistant outside with 8 children (You're still in ratio). Tell Angelica, "When you are done and ready to put your shoes on, let me know. I'll be over here with these two children."

With those two other children, pull out a board game or some other special activity so that they don't feel slighted about not getting to go outside just because someone else was having a tantrum. Stay within eye sight of Angelica so you can see what she is doing, but she can also see that you're still there.


The calmer and more nonchalant about it you are, the more control you have. You can even say, "You are allowed to be mad or upset. This is a safe place for you to do that. When you're done, I'm here to help you."

At the times when things start quieting down a bit, repeat "If you are done, I'm here to help you." Sometimes this will cause the tantrum to kick back up again; sometimes it will cause the tantrum to cease and at this point the child is ready to be helped.

During the tantrum, if she begins to move to a different area, calmly get up, walk over to her, and move her to the safe zone you have designated. Then, just as calmly, state "This is where you will be safe to kick and scream." And calmly walk away. Be very consistent in this. It is what they really are looking for, that boundary.

There really is nothing you can do but ride it out. Don't let it get you upset, that puts the control right back to the child; and it doesn't help at all to get her done or in the next tantrum she will have (and she will have another one).

Also, and most importantly, DON'T GIVE IN! Don't turn around and say, "Fine, just go out with your shoes off." Stick to your decision. That is only telling her that if she cries long and loud enough, she will eventually get her way. It will make her next tantrum go even longer!

If you ride it out and stick to the rule I can guarantee that the next one will be shorter; and they will eventually stop all together.

Once she is done with the tantrum and you say, "Are you ready for my help now?" And she says yes (or indicates in some way; maybe hands you her shoes to put on), respond by saying, "I'm glad you were able to get yourself out of that." Leave it at that. Give her a reassuring hug. Remember, a tantrum is just as frustrating to the child as it is to us. If necessary, calmly walk over to anything that got disturbed during the tantrum (trash can dumped over, toys thrown about, blankets messed up) with the child and say, "Okay, now that you're done with that, let's clean up the mess you made." Help her straighten everything up. This will confirm to her that it IS okay to have her emotions, but she is still responsibly for her actions. Help her clean up her face if necessary. Have you ever washed with a cool washcloth after a good cry? It really feels refreshing!

They CAN'T just stop a tantrum without practice. It's a matter of controlling their emotions. Adults have a difficult time controlling their emotions as well; we have our own little tantrums at times. So, just as frustrating as it is for YOU to watch a child in a tantrum, it is even MORE frustrating for them because (especially at a younger age) they really don't know how to pull themselves out of it.

Once it's done, have those two other children finish their activity and clean up, then you can all go out together.

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