Handling and Preventing Tantrums

New year, new you! Right? At least we all try to start off on the right foot. You may be looking to be healthier, save money, or have more patience with your children. For families of children with behavior disorders, that last one can be especially difficult. As parents, it’s important to remember two things:

  1. You are human! It is natural to become frustrated with your child’s tantrums.
  2. Your child needs your leadership! There are ways to combat these outbursts and home and change their behavior patterns.

This week’s blog is about how to handle your child’s behavior problems. Our Autism Program Manager, Addie Andrus, has shared some great insight on how to do just this. Read her advice below on how you can make changes at home to lessen your child’s outbursts. If you have specific questions about your child’s behavior, contact Addie at aandrus@emergela.org.


You may not realize it, but everything you do, you do for a reason. Personally, I’m not a fan of cleaning my house, but I do it. Why?  In the moment I certainly don’t gain any immediate reward, but I do know that my in-laws like to drop by the house randomly.  I also know that I would be embarrassed if my house were dirty when they came.  So, I clean my house to avoid that embarrassed feeling.  Problem behavior is no different.  It ALWAYS serves a purpose.  So ask yourself, “What does my child get out of this?  What are they trying to tell me?”

Three of the most common reasons people engage in problem behavior are to:

  • gain attention
  • get access to something they want
  • or avoid something they don’t want

What led up to the tantrum? Were you on the phone talking to a friend?  Did you tell your child that they couldn’t have their iPad right now?  Did you tell them to clean up their toys?

Even if you aren’t sure what caused the tantrum, you want to make sure that you respond well to this tantrum. Be sure that the tantrum doesn’t get them what they wanted.  If you were on the phone talking to a friend, make sure you don’t hang up and talk to your child.  If you told them “no” to the iPad, make sure you don’t give them that iPad right now.  If you said they had to clean up, make sure they clean up before they are allowed to do anything else.  We want to make sure that the incorrect behavior doesn’t work.  If it doesn’t work, there’s no reason for them to do it.

There are a couple of things to be prepared for though. Often you may see that the tantrum gets worse before it gets better.  Your child may scream louder or longer than usual.  You may even see some behaviors you haven’t seen before. All of this is very normal.  They are trying to figure out how to get what they want.  It’s incredibly important that you don’t give in.  As long as you don’t give in, the tantrum should decrease.

Once the tantrum is over, ask yourself again what triggered the tantrum and what you can do to help in the future. Try to teach your child an appropriate way to ask for what they want.  If it’s your attention while you’re on the phone, teach them to say “excuse me” to get your attention.  If they want a turn on the iPad, teach them how to say “iPad” or “can I have a turn?”  If they don’t like to do something, teach them how to ask for a break, or break the task up into smaller goals.  You want to make sure that they have a way to appropriately communicate the things they want or need, so always think about what you can teach to replace that tantrum.

And remember, a behavior change takes time. They have to learn that those tantrums don’t work and then how to appropriately ask for the things that they want and need.  You might even consider taking data on how often those tantrums happen or how long they last so that you can see if what you’re doing is working.