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Coping with Tantrums

By Ben Sidman

Tantrums are never easy to deal with and push parents to their limits of patients. It often seems to be that parents of children with social difficulties have a harder job because tantrums are either more frequent, unpredictable or harder to bring under control.

The Difficulties

Children with social difficulties can be very difficult to calm down when they have a tantrum because they have less of an understanding of things going on around them. This makes things like discipline very difficult because you are constantly weary that saying "no to even the slightest of things can develop into a dramatic tantrum.

Certainly the tantrums are less predictable or triggered by what people would generally consider "no big deal". This means that when your child has a tantrum over something very slight such as a meal they don't like, it becomes very difficult for parents and carers to sympathise and empathise. To you it is a perfectly reasonable thing to cope with.

When a tantrum does occur, it can be very difficult to bring under control. Parents can be left feeling shocked by the length of time a tantrum has lasted or by the amount of anxiety, frustration or aggression the child was feeling. Most of all, it can be very disheartening to see their apparent lack of being able to reach their own child to calm them down.

Another difficulty parents have is when they are in public places and their child has a tantrum, it is staggering to see other people looking at disgust at the parents who are immediately branded as bad parents to let their child get to that state.

Its not only members of the public but also uninformed professionals and medical practitioners who believe children are always a result of their parents.

Causes of Tantrums

Although it may feel that children with social difficulties have tantrums at the slightest problem, the causes of their tantrums can be a little more complex than it first appears. Tantrums are a product of some form of frustration, anxiety, anger etc. The causes of these behaviors can be extremely varied.

Some children have tantrums because they are unable to communicate what they want or express their feelings in any other way. Furthermore, they may have difficulty in understanding what they are being told. The use of picture cards may help overcome some of these problems. It is also essential to keep your language clear and brief and to emphasis important words.

Some children have great difficulty with their senses such as the feel of their clothes, the taste of their food. These uncomfortable senses make them feel uneasy and lead to built up stress if they cannot sort the problem out themselves.

Some causes of anxiety come from activities or planned events they have had problems with in the past. For example, the tennis teacher made them feel uncomfortable and knowing they have to go again causes them distress.

Problems can also occur from lack of sleep, a drop in their blood-sugar levels, an allergy to certain foods and the list goes on and on.

Parents and carers must also remember that most of the time their children do not realise themselves what is causing them to feel uncomfortable

What to do

Try to get as much information as possible when tantrums happen. Try to think of all the things that may have been the cause. Try talking to others e.g. teachers or other carers for the child to see what their experiences were and if there are any common issues that could lead to tantrums.

The best thing to encourage is communication to get the child to tell you or indicate in some way what they think is causing them distress. Try to coach them into knowing when something is making them feel bad. Then help them to tell you and give you the chance to sort it out first.

If a child is non-verbal it would be helpful to teach a child to initially point or take an adult's hand to items they want. This will reduce the frustration of not having some of their needs met. This will also help if they can point to things that are distressing them.


Don't underestimate the value of support groups close to you. Parents should feel comfort in there being many thousands of other parents that understand what you have to deal with. Often talking to other parents with children with social difficulties helps a lot so that you can see you are not the only one. It helps when you are out in public places and other people see you dealing with a child with social difficulties obviously don't understand the difficulty

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