Pub. Date:
Tantrums!: Managing Meltdowns in Public and Private

Tantrums!: Managing Meltdowns in Public and Private

by Thomas Phelan


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Wednesday, September 22


Advice on tantrums from the author of the bestselling parenting book 1-2-3 Magic

Temper tantrums may be the most upsetting behavioral problem many parents face from their children. Tantrums! arms confused and frustrated parents with simple, easy-to-follow directions on how to best manage the problem and guide kids appropriately. Readers will learn:

• The three main causes of temper tantrums
• The true power of the "10-Second Rule"
• The anatomy of a typical tantrum
• The chief problems with attempting to reason with or distract a child

Tantrums details an effortless four-step process for marshaling tantrums, as well as guidance on how to handle tantrums in public places, allowing parents to move beyond their fears of tantrums and regain control of their own homes.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781889140698
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 09/01/2014
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 1,148,967
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.20(d)

About the Author

Dr. Thomas W. Phelan is an internationally renowned expert, author, and lecturer on child discipline and Attention Deficit Disorder. A registered Ph.D. clinical psychologist, he appears frequently on radio and TV. Dr. Phelan practices and works in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Read an Excerpt


Managing Meltdowns in Public and Private

By Thomas W. Phelan, Rex Bohn

ParentMagic, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 ParentMagic, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-889140-78-0


Attitude Adjustment

First, let's look at what we parents actually think during one of our children's tantrums. Then let's take a look at what we should think — in other words, are there other ideas that make more sense? Then we'll extend our analysis by examining how temper tantrums work. Why do kids behave like this? What are they trying to accomplish? What does a kid's tantrum do to the average parent? It's a tough problem, but you'll soon see that our analysis will point us directly toward the solution.

What parents think during tantrums

Here's what parents often think when their child explodes. The tantrum plus this kind of thinking produces a horrible feeling in an adult.

"OMG, this should not be happening!"

"What did I do wrong?!"

"Is this kid nuts or what?!"

"What should I do? I'm an idiot!"

All these thoughts are incorrect. They are irrational and they have to be abandoned before mom or dad or grandma or boyfriend or babysitter can ever consider handling a tantrum properly. Why?

Erroneous thinking produces three results, ALL BAD

1. Bewilderment and confusion

2. Emotional agitation

3. Lousy strategy

Obviously, a big attitude adjustment is necessary!

What you should think during a tantrum

None of us ever had any training in how to manage a kid's meltdowns. That means agony for adults when kids decide to blow up, and big-time confusion about what to do.

No one in state of mental anguish is going to be able to solve any problem well. And children are automatic experts in being able to read their parents moods, thoughts and behavior. If kids think that an adult is upset and has no idea what to do, the door opens for that child to play that adult like a violin.

That's why it's essential that we rethink the series of rapid, spontaneous thoughts that we parents entertain when our children are tantruming. Let's examine each one separately.


"OMG, this should not be happening!"


Percentages of kids with daily tantrums

* 1-year-olds: 14%

* 2 to 3-year-olds: 20%

* 4-year-olds: 11%

* 5 to 6-year-olds: 5%

* 18 to 65-year-olds: ??

This tantrum should not be happening? Wrong. Meltdowns, though obnoxious, are normal and common. You cannot wish them away. Tantrums are especially common in one-to-four-year-olds. Many parents get a steady diet of them from their children. Tantrums do not mean your child is mentally ill.


What did I do wrong?!"


Aggravating as they can be, tantrums are often simply a child's primitive reaction to good parenting.

Tantrums have 3 main causes:

1. Not getting a thing] (Lollipop)

2. Having to do an activity (Going to bed)

3. Not getting an activity (Angry Birds)

Temper tantrums are usually a simple, normal reaction to simple, good parenting. As well as being warm, affectionate and friendly, good parents OFTEN have to be demanding. That means they can't give their kids everything the youngsters want. Since they are just little people and don't have a lot of emotional control, small children often overreact to the frustrations their parents and other caretakers impose. No, you can't have the lollipop for breakfast, yes, you do have to go to bed, and yes, it is time to stop playing Angry Birds. Though these events may seem like major tragedies to the kids right at the moment, in a short time they will have forgotten the whole thing. Their parents, however, may still be shaking from the blow-up.


"Is this kid nuts or what?!"


Tantrums occur spontaneously in normal children who are frustrated. Tantrums have two main goals:

1. Kids want to get their way.

2. Kids want to get revenge if you don't give them their way.

Tantrum behavior can kick in very naturally at an early age, and it has nothing to do with intelligence.

Meltdowns by themselves are not a sign that a child is mentally ill. Even if the tantrums occur many times a day or occur frequently after a child is over five, we still can't determine that a youngster has an emotional or behavioral problem. We have to first train caretakers in good meltdown management, go through a training/trial period, then see what we have left.

Rather than being chaotic signs of a total lack of discipline, tantrums are actually very goal-directed activities. Tantrums can have two goals, and understanding what these goals are is extremely important to managing them. The first goal of a tantrum is for a child to get his or her way. I want the lollipop; I don't want to go to bed; I do want to play Angry Birds and not eat dinner. A tantrum represents a tremendous investment of energy in attempting to get what one wants.

The second goal of a tantrum is one you may not like to hear, but it's just a normal part of human nature. If you don't give me what I want, Mom and Dad, you're going to get it! I will make you pay. I am going to make you suffer for being so unreasonably demanding. I may hit you, bite you, throw things or try to make you deaf with my screams.

Chaos? No. Intense, goal-directed behavior.


"What should I do? I'm an idiot!"


With the right attitude and perspective, a good battle plan and the willingness to persevere, I can minimize or even eliminate tantrums.

No one trained us in dealing with kids' outbursts. So naturally, we do feel helpless and ineffective. And when children know we feel that way, it makes the tantrum worse. Our little ones sense that they might get their way if they persist, and even if they don't get their way, the adult's obvious agony lets the kids know that they are effectively punishing Mom or Dad for their insensitivity.

This analysis provides some hints for tantrum management. We need to rethink how we adults reward tantrum behavior (and its two goals). Our Battle Plan will have to take this reality into account.

Most of the time kids are very likeable. Tantrums are aggravating and often extremely embarrassing, but they are not the end of the world. I have to learn how to forgive my child for just being a kid. And just think how nice it will be when I can reduce the frequency of — or even eliminate — the tantrums!



* Meltdowns are normal.

* You did nothing wrong.

* Your kid is not crazy — he is goal-directed.

* You can and will change this.

* Tantrums are aggravating but not terrible.

So here's our critical Attitude Adjustment. This and the Anatomy of a Tantrum (coming up) will provide the essential basis for our strategy for dealing with the problem. All these ideas are important, but the first two may be the most critical to remember. First, meltdowns are normal — they are not a sign that anything is wrong. You may get a steady diet of them while your children are little.

Second, although it seems to feel this way, a child's tantrum is NOT a sign that you did something wrong. On the contrary, you probably did something right (the demanding side of the parenting equation)!

Take a moment to let those two ideas sink in. How will they affect the way you react from now on to a youngster's explosions?


The Anatomy of a Tantrum

You've now started looking at tantrums differently. Now let's analyze a typical tantrum and see what's going on. You can think of a tantrum as having three possible stages or phases: Veto, Incubation and Explosion. The actual meltdown or explosion is the third stage, and it will not occur unless it is preceded by one or both of the other two.

1. The Veto: Their wish vs. your wish

2. Incubation: Mutual irritation grows

3. Explosion BLAM!

The Veto

Let's examine the Angry Birds example we introduced in the beginning of the program. Remember that tantrums have three main causes that are all based on parent/child conflict. Here the conflict is based on an activity the boy wants but that Mom does not want to allow because of the closeness to dinner time.

The Veto

"Can I play Angry Birds on your iPad?"

"No, dear."

"Why not?"

"We're eating in ten minutes."

During the Veto phase, the groundwork is laid for the parent/child conflict and ultimately for the child's tantrum — if matters get that far. During the Veto phase, the adult indicates to the child that the adult's desire is going to supercede the child's wish. The child is not going to get what he wants. There will be no Angry Birds before dinner.

So the potential battle line is drawn and the child has a choice: cooperate or file a protest. It would be nice if children were always capable of saying to themselves, "OK, fine. Better luck next time," and then walk away. Some kids, in fact, will grumble first but then cooperate. This positive reaction is more likely the older a child is. Kids who cooperate are learning what is known as "frustration tolerance" and that's one of life's most important skills.

But other children will push the adult. In other words, the children file a protest against the Veto. By complaining, grumbling or whining, they tell the parent, "I'm going to fight this!" If the youngster files a protest, the process potentially — but not for sure — enters the next phase, tantrum Incubation. Just as the child had to choose between cooperation and protest, now the parent has a big choice to make.


If the youngster files a protest, tantrum development may proceed to its next phase: the Incubation stage. What's the parent's choice here? It's whether or not to participate in tantrum Incubation by means of reasoning, pleading, whimpering or ineffective attempts at distraction.

Sometimes the Incubation stage determines whether or not a tantrum will occur at all. At other times, as with our lollipop girl, the Incubation stage takes almost no time whatsoever. The meltdown comes right on the heels of the frustration from the Veto. When Incubation does occur, the process involves a rapid, sensitive and highly volatile interaction during which parent and child repeatedly react and counter-react to each other. When this interaction process is negative — and especially when a parent is upset and doesn't know what to do — the likelihood of an angry explosion from the boy or girl becomes greater and greater.

Here's the Incubation stage in the Angry Birds story:


"Oh, come on. Just for five minutes."

"Read my lips. I said 'No'!" Incubation

"You never let me do anything!"

"What!? We just got back from the pool!"

The boy files his protest when he says, "Oh come on, just for five minutes." He puts his parent on notice that he is going to fight the Veto. What is this parent's strategy for dealing with the son's protest? It is to engage in a ridiculous conversation. During the ridiculous conversation, anger escalates on both sides, leading directly to the boy's explosion. Without the silly dialogue, the boy might not have blown up! "We just got back from the pool!" is a true statement that is at the same time useless, silly and provocative.

It is important to realize that the Incubation stage is often very short and sometimes even non-existent. It may be a split second or the Incubation discussion may go on for a few minutes. Since kids can go from calm to explosive very quickly, a general rule of thumb is this: After the Veto (the basic conflict is established and the child has protested), if a parent can't come up with an effective strategy in ten seconds or so, the chances of a meltdown become greater and greater.


So in some situations kids go straight from the Veto to Explosion. The parents walk out of the bedroom, for example, and their two- year-old explodes immediately. At other times, the children melt down after a silly dialogue. That is the case with our Angry Birds fellow:


"That's stupid! I hate you!!"

No parent likes to be called "stupid" or to have her kids say they hate her. Older kids may be less physical, and may instead accuse you of being a bad parent, swear or threaten to do awful things. Small children may throw themselves down on the ground, kick ferociously, scream and bang their heads.

A full-blown meltdown in a child makes most of us parents extremely uncomfortable. We want to scream or at least talk to our youngsters to try to pound some sense into their heads, but that usually makes matter worse. It's an awful feeling! Let's look more closely at this state of temporary insanity in our brains.


The B.A.D. Syndrome

The experience of a tantruming child — or sometimes just the thought of that — can produce something very "bad" in a parent or other child caretaker. That something is a painful and dysfunctional state of mind that we call the B.A.D. Syndrome.

The B.A.D. Syndrome in adults

When faced with a tantruming child, many adults are first bewildered and surprised. Even if they have been through these outbursts many times before, lots of moms and dads still seem caught off guard. This B.A.D. feeling is the opposite of accepting tantrums as normal, unpleasant and repetitive.

* Bewildered:

Surprised — no idea what to do.

* Agitated:

Upset — want to end crisis ASAP!

* Defaults to:

Reasoning as the chief strategy

Being caught off-guard also means being at a loss for what to do. All this leads to severe emotional agitation — now the adult is about as upset as the kid is. Because this B.A.D. feeling is very painful, the parent wants to end the crisis as soon as possible. What to do? Oddly enough, many if not most adults in this situation default to reasoning with the child. Default is the perfect word here, since adults just seem to fall backwards into talking, pleading and otherwise trying to persuade the child to calm down.

Adult whimpering

To the frustrated child, however, adult reasoning comes across as whimpering. Whimpering at a child during the Incubation stage is like cutting your own throat.

Whimpering is deadly because kids immediately smell weakness in the adult's tone of voice. To the little ones it sounds as though the adults don't really know what they're doing. And the little ones are correct!! So the tantrum gets worse. Why does an upset, weak and whimpering adult make the tantrum worse? It's really simple.

The whole B.A.D. Syndrome in an adult gives the child HOPE. Hope for what? Hope that one or both of the goals of meltdowns might be met. If these adults really don't know what to do and if, furthermore, they're really upset, the child thinks, there's a good chance I'll either get my way or I'll at least get them back for not giving me what I want. In other words, indecision and agitation in the adult tell the child that "It's time to go for the gold!"

1. Maybe I'll get my way!

2. Even if I don't get my way, I'll get revenge.

By the way, this manipulation or maneuvering (or whatever you want to call it) on the part of the child requires no particular intelligence or brainpower. It just seems to come naturally, even in kids under two years of age.

High vs. Low Frustration Tolerance

Each one of these parent/child episodes (and how the parents handle it) is really important for the child's growing up and their ability to mature. Why is that? It has to do with something called "Frustration Tolerance."

There are two lessons all kids have to learn as they grow up:

1) You can't always get your way.

2) It's really OK if you don't get your way all the time.

But some people learn these lessons better than others. Some folks learn to accept frustrations more or less gracefully, not punish those who frustrate them, and move on. Others learn to feel that they should get their way all the time and that not getting their way is unjust or tragic. They learn to believe that this injustice should be punished. We used to refer to children like this as brats. Now, with our modern psychiatric sophistication, we call them Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) kids. These kids are emotional (and sometimes physical) bullies and they do not have bright futures.

That's why the Incubation stage is so important. It's at that point that children repeatedly practice one of two points of view. Some kids learn to accept frustration (including limits from authority) as normal, repetitive and transient. You can't get everything you want, that's OK and you move on with life. This is called HFT — high frustration tolerance. Other kids whose parents don't handle the Incubation stage well, however, learn to view all frustrations as unjustifiable tragedies. These kids learn LFT (low frustration tolerance) and they also come to believe that adults who impose restrictions on them should be punished.


Excerpted from Tantrums! by Thomas W. Phelan, Rex Bohn. Copyright © 2014 ParentMagic, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ParentMagic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


You're Not Alone!,
Three Terrible Tantrums,
Lesson I: What To Think,
Chapter 1 Attitude Adjustment,
Chapter 2 Anatomy of a Tantrum,
Chapter 3 The B.A.D. Syndrome,
Let's Get This Right! Lesson I Summary,
Lesson II: What To Do,
Chapter 4 Boot Camp,
Chapter 5 The Battle Plan,
Chapter 6 Our Terrible Tantrums,
Let's Get This Right! Lesson II Summary,
Lesson III: What If?,
Chapter 7 FAQs: Troubleshooting,
Chapter 8 Out in Public,
Let's Get This Right! Lesson III Summary,
Are You Ready?,
Go Get 'em!,

Customer Reviews