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Understanding Tantrums

Updated: Mar 24

Behavior Is On Purpose

Behavior is intentional. Every action a child takes serves a specific purpose, aimed at meeting their needs effectively. Consequently, a child's behavior is not accidental but rather a means to fulfill their needs. These needs typically fall into categories such as seeking attention, avoiding situations, gaining access to preferred items or activities, or addressing sensory needs.

kid having a tantrum

Children strive to fulfill their needs as swiftly as possible, often resorting to behaviors that provide immediate gratification. For instance, when feeling lonely or undervalued, a child might resort to nagging, screaming, or other inappropriate behaviors to gain attention. However, it's through consistent boundary-setting by primary caregivers that children learn to adopt more positive behaviors, albeit with delayed gratification. Essentially, children tend to lean towards negative behaviors as they yield immediate results, unlike positive behaviors that may require patience for gratification.

Tantrums/Protests Are Expected

Tantrums and protests are natural occurrences in a child's development. A tantrum can be defined as any behavior aimed at immediate gratification, reflecting the child's attempt to meet their needs quickly. These episodes often arise when boundaries are enforced, causing frustration as the child is urged to adopt new, positive behaviors. Recognized as protests in behavioral terms, these outbursts are an anticipated part of the behavior modification process. It's crucial for caregivers to address protests without inadvertently reinforcing negative behaviors.

Count On Things To Get Worse Before They Get Better

Behaviors may escalate when new interventions or strategies are introduced, and boundaries consistently enforced. The child may intensify their behaviors in an attempt to dismantle or weaken the boundary, enabling immediate fulfillment of their needs. For example, if a child habitually screams when instructed to turn off a video game, they may escalate their screams or resort to other intense behaviors upon encountering a new boundary. Understanding this escalation is essential for caregivers to remain committed to the established boundaries.

Beliefs Become Updated

As caregivers persist in maintaining boundaries, children gradually protest less frequently and with reduced intensity. Over time, they come to accept the limitations of their previous belief that inappropriate behaviors could fulfill their needs. This shift in belief allows caregivers to redirect children more effectively. It's important to note that significant behavior changes may take over four weeks to manifest sustainably, and children may continue to test boundaries even as they learn to respect them.

Zack Kasabo is a certified school counselor who has been working with extremely challenging behaviors for over eight years outside of Philadelphia, PA.  He is the owner of Kasabo Behavior Management which is a coaching service that specializes in helping parents confidently manage their child’s challenging behavior in 8 weeks or less.

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