Note: This post was first published in 2017 but has been updated.
Overnight your child mutated from a cute toddler into a fit-throwing monster, as volatile as the Middle East.
You’ve been told to ignore tantrums. Walk out the room. Reason with your child. Reassure them of your love and acceptance.
And they’re still on the floor throwing a fit.
You’re bewildered, amazed, and frustrated.
Where did your sweet child go?
Good news: You don’t have to tolerate tantrums.
(Ducking the rotten tomatoes and counter-arguments…)
I repeat: You don’t have to tolerate tantrums. In fact, you shouldn’t tolerate them.
While tantrums are considered a “normal” stage of development (what’s “normal” about throwing yourself on the floor?) you need to stop them A.S.A.P.
Tantrums are always the result of a child not getting what they want.
Their will is crossed, self rises up and everyone knows they are unhappy.
Whether sparked by frustration because you took a toy away, or because the child is unable to express themselves, or the fact that they can’t have what they want, now – makes no difference.
Strong emotions are not an excuse for fit-throwing.
It is never ok to give out-of-control expression to anger. It’s not ok in an adult, and it’s not ok in a child. The sooner you help your child learn this the better.
Emotional or psychological damage will not occur because you did not allow your child to throw a tantrum.
Instead, they will be happier and a joy to be around.
It all boils down to what you expect of your child. If you believe your child should not be throwing a fit, then stop them throwing one. No one likes tantrums. So why tolerate them?
Your child can learn self-control and now is the time to teach it.
“Among the first tasks of the mother is the restraining of passion in her little ones. Children should not be allowed to manifest anger; they should not be permitted to throw themselves upon the floor, striking and crying because something has been denied them which was not for their best good. I have been distressed as I have seen how many parents indulge their children in the display of angry passions. Mothers seem to look upon these outbursts of anger as something that must be endured, and appear indifferent to the child’s behavior. But if an evil is permitted once, it will be repeated, and its repetition will result in habit, and so the child’s character will receive an evil mold.” [i]
“I have often seen the little one throw itself and scream if its will was crossed in any way. This is the time to rebuke the evil spirit. The enemy will try to control the minds of our children, but shall we allow him to mold them according to his will? These little ones cannot discern what spirit is influencing them, and it is the duty of parents to exercise judgment and discretion for them. Their habits must be carefully watched. Evil tendencies are to be restrained, and the mind stimulated in favor of the right. The child should be encouraged in every effort to govern itself.”[ii]
Warning: this is not going to be pretty… Probably because you’ve allowed the tantrums in the past.
Ask God to be in control of you so that you do not act in anger. Surrender your own frustrations and anger to Him.
In an authoritative tone, tell your child to stop the tantrum. Authoritative does not mean angry, loud, harsh, or impatient. Just commanding.
Decide beforehand what consequence you will give if your child does not obey your command – whether it be a switch on the leg with a wooden spoon, or restraining them until they subdue.
This must happen every time your child throws a tantrum. Consistency is key.
If your child continues crying, gets more agitated, starts choking, gagging, turning blue, then pick your child up, take him or her to a place where you can be comfortable and alone. Seat your child on your lap and hold him or her tight. They may be arching their back, waving their arms, trying to hit you. Hold tight. As long as they are fighting, hold tight. When your child stops arching and swinging arms, release your hold a bit. If they try to get off your lap, then restrain them again.
While you are restraining your child, pray. Surrender your child’s will to God on his or her behalf. Ask God to take control of your child’s heart and will and to subdue them.
What you are aiming for is a sweet, obedient child. Don’t stop until you have that. Your child’s body language is a good indication of what is going on in their heart. Arching, hitting, screaming, waving arms are all signs of lack of submission.
This may take 2 minutes, 20 minutes, or 1 ½ hours. But if you give in before you see sweet submission your child has won the battle.
Once your child stops crying, test their submission. Pick up a book to read to him. If he pushes it away and starts crying then his heart is not surrendered. If you ask him to point to his nose or eyes and he starts crying again or tries to hit you, he is not submitted. If you ask your child to smile and she refuses and starts crying again, then the heart is not subdued. This may be the time to restrain your child again until he submits. Pray constantly that God will show you when your child surrenders his heart.
A word of caution: If you have left your child to throw fits or given in to his or her demands, the battle will be harder and take longer. Persevere until your child learns that you are the one in control.
Be calm, decided, firm, and cheerful. When your child submits, praise her. Give her affection and reassure her of your love.
True love won’t tolerate a raging temper because true Love does not rejoice in evil. (1 Corinthians 13:6)
Are you tolerating tantrums? What are you going to do to help your child learn self-control?
[i] Child Guidance, 92, Ellen G. White
[ii] Child Guidance, 93, Ellen G. White