Daycare providers must deal with a wide range of behavioral issues as a part of normal toddler and preschooler development. One such behavioral issue is the proverbial toddler temper tantrum. We interviewed Jed Baker, Ph.D, director of the Social Skills Training Project, and author of No More Meltdowns, to discover the best tips for handling temper tantrums in family daycares and preschools.
OwnADaycare: What is a temper tantrum and are there different types of tantrums?
Dr. Baker: These are negative emotional reactions that can involve crying, screaming, hitting, spitting or refusing to comply and can last for seconds or much longer. Some people distinguish between tantrums and meltdowns, suggesting that meltdowns are uncontrollable emotional reactions whereas tantrums are intentional behaviors designed to help kids get what they want. In practice, this distinction is very difficult to make and from my point of view is somewhat irrelevant. If a child melts down or tantrums, it means they did not have a better way to handle a situation. We then need to make the situation less stressful for the child and/or teach them a better way to handle the situation.
OwnADaycare: Why do preschool-aged children throw temper tantrums?
Dr. Baker: They do not yet have the skills to cope with many challenging situations. For many preschoolers, language is not fully developed and thus they may express their protests, wishes, or frustration by “acting out” rather than explaining what they feel or want. In addition to language challenges, self-control is not yet fully developed. All preschoolers have a tendency to act before they think. The ability to reflect and plan before acting develops with age.
OwnADaycare: What can preschool teachers do when a child throws a tantrum (strategies and behaviors)?
Dr. Baker: The usual approach to maintaining control in preschool and daycare starts with setting some clear rules such as:
1. Listen to the teacher
2. Use an inside voice
3. Keep your hands to yourself
Typically, when these rules are not followed, there is a warning followed by a consequence like going to “time out” for several minutes. When this approach fails to help a child who continually has tantrums, or, worse yet, this discipline approach actually intensifies the tantrums, what else can the teacher do?
When threats of “”time out or promises of rewards are not working, you may have a child who is not dealing with logic and is overcome by emotion. Instead of reasoning with him, try distracting him. Redirecting the child to a favorite book or stuffed animal, providing a hug, or taking the child for a walk outside the room can help to calm the situation. One warning though: if children are tantrumming to avoid doing a task and you give them something fun to do, you may accidentally reward the tantrum. So when tantrums occur to avoid a task, it is better to help the child learn to calmly ask for a break rather than rewarding tantrum-like behavior. Say, “Instead of yelling, can you say ‘I need a break’ or ‘This is hard, can you help me?’”
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