Grade Schooler Tantrums

Updated on April 03, 2010
M.C. asks from Wailuku, HI
11 answers

My daughter is 8 and she throws massive tantrums. She has always been mercurial, and I think she only melts down at home (she holds it together at school and friends' houses) but geez, I would have thought she'd outgrow it by now. Today, she could not find the exact "tablecloth" that she was looking for so she could set the table for her American Girl Doll (her latest obsession) and she threw a raving hissy fit for about an hour. I try to stay calm when these things happen, and I will not help her solve whatever "problem" she's having (they are usually of this magnitude, like she can't find her purple marker or something) until she calms down and speaks respectfully to me. I usually need to tell her to go to her room to ride it out. It is really unfair to the neighborhood and our family that we must endure this screaming, slamming and stomping. I fear for us when puberty hits. Any advice on what I can do to help her find another way to deal with frustration?

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answers from Los Angeles on

My 6-year old can get bad tantrums too. I used different kinds of positive reinforcement to help her out. First off, I worked on increasing her flexibility, so when things don't go her way, she finds ways to cope, including saying things like, "Oh well!" I did a point system and initially would make her go from one fun activity to another, and she would earn points. Initially, each point was good for an M&M (you have to find reinforcers that she would like). Then I'd have her make a change to something less preferable. I'd keep increasing the difficulty of the transition, and decreasing the rewards. Now, I do a reward chart. If she can make it through a day without a tantrum she gets a sticker. A week's worth of stickers is rewarded by a special outing.

You sound like your handling her tantrums appropriately once they begin. BTW, I was taught these techniques by behaviorists who are helping me work with my child. She has Asperger's and had very similar issues as what you are dealing with (rigidity, tantrums, obsessions). You might want to consider getting her assessed. It can be hard to spot in girls. Getting the help has made a world of difference in our lives! I admit, I tend to see everything through an Asperger filter, but I do think it's much more common than people realize!

ETA: Getting a diagnosis does NOT mean your child takes meds! I found that comment another mom made very offensive. My daughter is not on meds. She has made amazing strides using the behavior modification techniques and positive reinforcement. What the diagnosis DOES give you is free help with behaviorists who know how to set up the modification programs and can teach you to do the same. It also really helps to have people involved who do not have a history with your child. I find my daughter is usually much more open to suggestions by the nice behaviorist than by me! In one years time, my daughter went from having terrible tantrums many times a day, no friends, obsessive behaviors, rigidity, etc to being a totally different girl! She's in a general ed kindergarten classroom. Her real out of control tantrums happen about once every 4 months or so. She has lots of friends at school and is very social. Her rigidity is GREATLY reduced and when it pops up, she can often calm herself down and problem solve so she doesn't tantrum. She wouldn't have made these improvements without the diagnosis. I totally have a different child now! I can't stress how fabulous this last year has been with watching her changes.


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answers from Austin on

I think you are doing a great job so far.
The fact that she holds it together in public, lets you know she can get this under control. I suggest you treat it just as you have been , but in a bit of stern way.

SHE needs to learn to make better decisions about her reactions.
Treat her just like the 3 year old she is behaving as.

Is she a perfectionist? Maybe you and your husband need to be more vocal about your own mistakes and your own frustrations. "Gosh where did I put that book I was reading last night? I try to always keep it next to my bed? Gosh I need to retrace my steps last nigh, maybe it fell under the bed."

"Oh no, I forgot to pick up milk at the store! That was the main reason I went, oh well, I can go later, help me remember, I forget the silliest things sometimes." Just show her how all of you in the family react in a reasonable way. Praise each other (you will feel ridiculous telling your husband "oh gosh, isn't it frustrating that you forgot that." or " Oh I do that all of the time, but we know it is no big deal."

You are showing her the correct and acceptable reaction.

When she throws her fit just step away from her and remind her to go to her room. Let her know. "Once you get this out of your system, let me know so we can have a conversation".. Do this EVERY TIME. Get ear plugs, go outside, whatever you need to do to not be available to be witness to these tantrums. You make a great audience, because you do get upset.

She sounds like a toddler that gets frustrated, but does not know their feeling or words and yet you know that she does. If she cannot find HER tablecloth, is she angry with herself? What is she going to do about it next time? If it is too much for her, maybe You need to put these things in storage for her so they will not frustrate her so much?

Maybe video tape her, without her knowledge?
Maybe have her go outside and sit on the front porch and have her fit?
Sunshine does wonders for a bad temper. Is there a big end of the year school tip that she thinks she will be allowed to attend? Maybe it needs to be discussed you are concerned she may have a meltdown and so she may need to "prove to you she is mature enough to hold it together at home first?"

Do reward her with praise when you notice she is holding it together during frustrating events.

I am sending you strength.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter is only 8 months but I teach 3rd and 4th graders have this attitude about everything in life! The best thing I have done is set up a reward system. Not a sticker chart or anything but I turned it into a game. I make up two teams and they compete at tasks such as being respectful when other people are speaking to earn points toward prizes and privileges. The trick is making the reward something extra special to make it worth while. For example if you give in easily to dessert I wouldn't make that a reward because it isn't special enough. I recommended this to someone else, make it a game for your family. At dinner one night talk about what you all think should be the "rules" and set up jars in a common area that you can fill with something (we use marbles in class). You can either make lines on the jars or make it a certain total count by a certain date. Let your daughter be in charge of putting her own marbles in when she does something worth rewarding so she learns the responsibility of acting in a certain manner. It will take time for her to adjust, but the sense of ownership that comes with the discipline is worth it!

Good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

This might sound ridiculous, but my mom started to imitate me and freak out haha and it totally caught my attention. I will never forget the first time I got busted for cursing and my mom sat me down on my bed and just started cursing up a storm. It makes me laugh now, but i was bug eyed at the time and in shock.

I'm remembering things from my babysitting days (there were LOTS of them), and what I mainly did was while they're throwing a fit, I just give them a hug and ask them what's wrong. It worked the majority of the time, but there were those times where they needed to be left alone.

I'm also thinking of Nanny 911 and you're doing the same things as they would do except for time outs. Keep your cool like you have been, get down to her level and ask her what's wrong. If she can't remain calm ask her to take 3 deep breaths and talk to you like a big girl. And, if that doesn't work she needs to go to her room, like she has, to cool off. Try having conversations with her, once she's calm, and try to discuss her tantrums. Ask her how she feels when she can't find something and suggest to her alternative reactions for her to try.

Sometimes there are other things going on emotionally and are usually built up if she doesn't have an outlet. The littlest things can set her off. Just keep talking to her about her feelings. Ask her what she thinks of this or how she feels about that. It will open up doors like you wouldn't believe.

Good Luck to you, hope this gives you some ideas!

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answers from Denver on

Hi M. - boy does this sound familiar. We've had ALOT of these episodes. It would be over little crazy things just like what you described and the only way we could handle it was the same way. Send him to his room and let him ride it out.

Here's what we learned that I would NEVER have guessed. My 7yr old son has a sensory integration problem. He is considered "hyper-sensitive" Our youngest is in speech therapy and we were going through an occupational therapy evaluation questionnaire for him. We found just as much of my oldest son on those pages as my younger.

You gave some clues in your request - "she holds it together at school but then melts down at home" and that she gets frustrated and has a fit and takes a long time to calm down. Classic signals of a sensory issue.

This is not a psychological or mental problem it's a neurological problem. We all have 3 systems in our bodies that help us regulate our bodies movement, balance and even emotions and behaviors. If the pathways are disordered then so is the body and behavior. Think of a time when you were the most irritable you've ever been, you had zero patience, everything was just too much for you and just couldnt keep from being a real jerk. That's how it feels on a daily basis for a kid whose nervous systems are disorder and overloaded. We had him tested, we put him in OT for a while and now we have him do certain recommended exercises that help him order his nervous system. They arent hard and they're fun.

Our son is a different kid! He's happy and sensitive. He rarely has a fit anymore and if he does, I notice we stay calmer because we know exacty what's going on with him. He feels more in control too and his self-esteem and confidence have increased.

I'm going to send you a couple of links for more info. One is an article written by our OT that has good tips to use at home and in the classroom. Consider having her tested by an OT. It will be the BEST money you ever spent and OT is covered by most insurance. Also googles some things like "Sensory Processing Disorder" and "sensory diet"

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answers from Denver on

She sounds a lot like my ADHD daughter who has an extremely low frustration tolerance. I find myself running frantically to the washer/dryer to find the one shirt she has decided she will wear. She can't seem to let go of the idea of this "certain shirt." MY daughter is also extremely rigid and inflexible about certain things--they have to just right or she freaks out. I highly recommend the book the Explosive Child. I wish my daughter would go to her room to ride it out. She won't stay in it! My daughter's behavior is also much worse at home--she too can hold it together in school and at friends' houses. This is typical of Explosive Kids.

The important thing to know is that her behavior is not caused by bad or inconsistent parenting. I wish people knew this. You've probably gotten the same dirty looks and heard the same comments--"She just needs to be disciplined correctly" "If I had her for 5 mins she wouldn't be doing this!" As the book explains, some children are developmentally delayed in dealing with frustration and that if they could be behaving better, they would be. It teaches you how to deal with and to help prevent explosions, while at the same time helping her acquire the skills she needs to deal better with frustration in the future. Another thing is that traditional means of discipline and parenting will not work with a child like this. (I saw one mom suggested a sticker chart). Never worked with my daughter and the experts say, they don't work with kids like this. If you are like me, you have tried all the old tricks--positive praise, consequences, time-outs, loss of privileges, rewards, sticker charts and have found that nothing seems to prevent the next outburst!

I noticed one mom made a sarcastic remark about medication. I can honestly say, if she lived with a child like this--it is emotionally and mentally draining--she might have a different view. If there was a pill that could help my daughter with this--she would be on it! Unfortunately, the ADHD meds address focus and hyperactivity and do not help with frustration intolerance. That has to be learned.

Good luck--get the book and let me know if you have any questions!

**I am not trying to imply that your daughter has ADHD. This kind of behavior is common in some types of ADHD but the existence of one doesn't necessarily mean the other.

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answers from Honolulu on

Lots of good suggestions here.

Also, and sorry if I am repeating, but teach her "coping skills" to handle her emotions. Like count to 10, take deep breaths etc. In addition to problem-solving, which is good... maybe she actually needs help... to know what steps she can take to problem solve... instead of just not helping her in that.
Some kids, actually need to be shown/told what to do. Because... in the midst of a tantrum, a child cannot think straight nor in chronological order... to calm themselves down. So, perhaps if she and you "practice" coping-skills and problem solving... then she will get to know "how" to do so, more on her own.

Right now, it seems she cannot problem-solve or instigate coping skills on her own... so try to come up with some simple things she "can" do...
and do it when she is not in a tantrum. So she can digest it better.

And, maybe she is over-tired, hungry, etc.? My girl gets like that when she is tired and hungry... and my girl is 7 years old. But she doesn't tantrum for 1 hour. Just a few seconds.
If your girl massively tantrums for 1 hour... that does not sound real on par... maybe ask the Doctor.

My daughter, in Kinder, even had a Teacher that taught the kids meditation. It helped to calm them down... and to focus... and to deflate.

Your girl does not seem to be able to cope... nor to actually do problem-solving on her own... so to thus expect her to, is not going to work. I think she needs more help with that.

All the best,

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answers from Chicago on

Deep Breaths! I think you are already handling her tantrums in a great way. I agree with Laurie A.

My 8 yr old (now 9) would tantrum like that. It would boggle my mind because she was never like that before - even as a toddler, her tantrums were mild. I would tell her in no uncertain terms to go to her room and she could stay there until she had calmed down. Unfortunately, that didn't always work and I would go in there and then tell her to clean up the mess she made.

I finally made the connection my daughter had a special needs girl in her class that would fly into rages that would disrupt the whole class. My daughter was copying her behavior at home (the girl has improved greatly over the year with the help from a wonderful aid, the teacher and the other students). That's when I really put a stop to the tantrums. I explained that each time she had one, she would get something taken away (TV, Computer, DS, etc). If she didn't get control of herself within 10 minutes, she would have to go to bed early. Evenutally, the tantrums stopped and she acts much more appropriately when she gets frustrated.

I especially liked how Laurie A says to model certain behaviors. I've been doing that a lot lately because it really, really helps my kids see that not being perfect isn't the end of the world. Look at me! I'm not perfect either!

I think that since she can control herself in other places, then this tantrum thing is a stage that she'll get through with your help. I know how frustrating it is, but you will get through it! Just remain as calm as you can and be very firm in your discipline. There really is no reason for her act this way.

Good luck!

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answers from San Diego on

Hi M.,

I have to reiterate what Colleen T. said. There are definite key signs in your statements that allude to either Sensory Processing issues or asperger like traits (frustration for both with some tantrumming even at older ages). I would also suggest getting her evaluated. Early intervention is the key! Also be careful with the ADHD label, some sensory issues/asperger like traits mimic ADHD. It is best to get her tested first. I'm sure she doesn't want behave the ways she does and she needs your help now. Good luck.



answers from New York on

sure go ahead and have her evaluated and let them come up with a three letter diagnosis for her, medicate, and that will be the end of her tantrums.
set up a reward chart. two a day, she is allowed to miss two. meaning from monday through friday, she needs to ear two stickers a day (she can miss two stickers), so if she gets 8 or 10 by the end of friday, saturday you get to treat her to something she likes (set a dollar amount). do this for a few months. she needs motivation to hold it together.
we do this with my 5 year old. we had the behavior chart set up in school as well, but she 'outgrew' her tantrums in school. she still has those at home or outside (in presence of neighbors). of course it is embarrasing, but i really don't care what people think. my daughter is emotional, immature, yet awesome. in fact, she's my soul, so i try to help her find words to express her frustration. it helps, not every day, but much better than before. our saturdays are out mom-daughter shopping for what she has earned. she loves those. i wish i could change her behavior, but it is who she is. she's emotional. that's that.



answers from Portland on

My adopted daughter behaved very similarly to your description of your daughter. Now, her 6 yo son is having similar difficulties. He has been evaluated and found to have delayed speech and sensory issues. My daughter was diagnosed with possibly having bi-polar disturbance.

My daughter did hold it together at school. I was told that the reason she had these tantrums at home is because she felt secure at home.

I recommend that you have your daughter evaluated by a professional team. Your school district is mandated by Federal law to provide evaluation and treatment if it's needed free of charge. My grandson did receive part of his evaluation thru the school district and then some more thru Kaiser Permanente, his insurance. My granddaughter, who was having serious difficulty concentrating and staying focused at school was also evaluated thru the school district. Both children have an IEP, Independent Educational Plan because they had difficulty at school.

Another service that the school district provides after an evaluation is in-home counseling for both the child and the parents. My daughter learned more effective parenting skills that work with her children.

I suggest that you need to find out why your daughter is acting this way while she is this young. If you don't find a way to change the pattern you will find the teen years especially challenging. I speak from experience.

I would also talk with her teacher. She may be having some difficulty at school too but the teacher is able to handle it so far. Portland Public Schools have a counselor assigned to each school. The counselor was a help with my daughter and now with my granddaughter.

My granddaughter was diagnosed with possibly being ADHD. She took medication for a few weeks but because of some help that she received at school and with her parents using some ideas from the counselor she was able to quit taking the medicine. Sometimes it just takes the focus of a professional to identify what needs to be done and then everyone following thru to change the direction in which a child is headed.

One of the important aspects is to praise and show approval when your daughter is doing well, to mostly ignore tantrums. Sending them to their room, telling them that they can come out when they calm down is good. A hug is essential after they calm down. Handling the whole incident calmly and unemotionally is important. Helping them to feel good about themselves once they do gain back control. And not putting them down when they do lose control. They are not their actions. Show love to the little girl inside who will learn how to control her emotions. All of that is important.

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