How to put a stop to screaming and tantrums.

A concerned mom wrote:
For my 4 year old daughter everything is dramatic and must be blown out of proportion. Her automatic response to anything she thinks is unfair is to screech and cry at the top of her lungs. It doesn’t matter where we are or who’s around. Nothing we say, bribe, threaten or anything seems to quiet her down. Have we caused her to be this way? We are at a loss as to what to do about it. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

You aren’t the cause of the problem.
Our society paints kids as these angelic beings fresh from heaven. They would grow into perfect adults if parents didn’t mess them up. But actually, they come messed up. We all do. No one has to train us to be selfish, get angry, demand our way, lie, etc. As part of a fallen race self-control is not natural for any of us – tantrums are. You didn’t cause her to be this way. “There is therefore now, no condemnation …”

You are the solution for the problem
Though we didn’t cause the problem it’s up to us to help our children learn self-control.
Here are some thoughts about how to do that:

  1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
    Often we can tell our kids are getting wound up- tired, hungry, stressed out, etc. Take action to head it off before the explosion.
  2. Don’t overreact out of your own embarrassment.
    If you explode or overreact you are only adding to the noise and chaos. Parents sometimes over react in public because they are embarrassed and under react at home because they are just too tired of dealing with it. Keep it level and consistent.
  3. Don’t cave in if the screaming is over something you refused to do (eg. buy candy).
    Giving in rewards the behavior and teaches your child that this is a sure fire way to get her way.
  4. Firmly, face-to-face, tell her she needs to stop screaming immediately and what the consequence will be if she does not.
    Don’t yell but do look her right in the eye – probably need to get down on your knees face to face and perhaps hold her face so you are looking right at each other and she knows you are serious. Use a firm, deep voice.
    NOTE: Use wisdom. Just like us, if they are hurt, hungry, etc. they may not be able to stop immediately. I am referring to the situation you address in your question. The child is just mad because something didn’t go her way or isn’t fair.
  5. Carry through on your promise.
    Yes, it was a promise, not a threat. You do not want to break your promise – take her to the car, to her room, to a private place and do what you promised you would do. Yes, it’s a pain to stop what you’re doing and leave but if you do this consistently – so she knows you mean what you say – and the consequences are unpleasant enough, you won’t have to do it very often.It’s important to establish appropriate consequence for the outbursts. We only change when the “pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of change”. In other words, we all follow the course of least resistance. I will only control myself when self-control is more rewarding than not controlling myself.

    She may fight you but there is a reason God made parents so much bigger than their young children. Embrace her tightly and carry her (don’t jerk or drag or handle roughly) to an isolated location where you can administer the consequences – time out, controlled spanking, removal of privileges, for older children copying Scripture about true beauty being a quiet spirit, etc.

    The consequences have to be “painful” – not necessarily physically painful (though that needs to be an option).  See my spanking book on how to do this appropriately in a controlled way. If the only consequence is taking her to another location, guess what! You’re the only one suffering any unpleasant consequence for her misbehavior.

  6. Don’t give up.
    It is not likely she will stop the first time. She needs to know that you will do what you say AND, this is a very important and, And that the consequences are unpleasant enough that she wants to stop screaming more than she wants what you promised would happen if she keeps screaming.
  7. Finally
    Don’t even address the issue of what she’s screaming about -the injustice – until long after the fit is over. And probably not until after the consequences are complete, too. That’s not important compared to the importance of her learning to control herself. Be encouraged. Be consistent. You can and will – you must – win this battle.

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