Help! My eight-year-old is throwing tantrums

You'll need to pick a strategy to deal with your daughter's tantrums – and stick with it.
You'll need to pick a strategy to deal with your daughter's tantrums – and stick with it. Photo: Shutterstock

QUESTION: Our 8-year-old daughter has started throwing big tantrums. Once she gets worked up, she can't calm herself down.

She's started getting worked up over little things. Once-a-week tantrums are now daily tantrums. These tantrums upset the whole household.

We're not sure how best to handle things when she throws a wobbly. We've told her the tantrums are unacceptable but she doesn't seem to take any notice.

I know all kids throw tantrums but what is the best way to handle these tantrums? Do we take privileges away from her? Send her to room for 15 mins to calm down?

ANSWER: The tantrum stage is usually over by eight, because children have learned how to manage their frustrations, anger and disappointments by then. It's interesting that your daughter has started throwing tantrums now.

I agree that it's totally unacceptable and I've made a few suggestions that you might use to stop them, but you'll need to pick your strategy – and stick with it. Switching from one scheme to another will let her see your indecision. When your daughter's calm, try to discuss her inappropriate behaviour and what you intend doing about it.

I know someone who filmed their son's terrifying and embarrassing meltdown and showed him later when he'd recovered. It was an effective idea because he was mortified. This may not work for your daughter  but collecting the evidence has never been easier!

Your daughter is effectively holding the household to ransom and these tantrums will have long-term repercussions on other siblings. Suggest some tools to control  her emotions and let her select the one that best appeals, ie counting, breathing, a mantra, a special place to sit, or time away. Reward her every time she shows control and uses her selected tool.

The trouble with this sort of system is it depends on you, as the parents, to keep it going. It's no good having a couple of good days and then letting it all slide back to the bad old ways. Any sort of habit takes a while to change so you have to be more persistent than your 8-year-old and that's actually harder than it sounds.

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As a caveat, I'd like to say that since this has only recently begun, I think you should check that nothing traumatic has triggered her new behaviour.

Hopefully, it's all just a case of witnessing these tantrums performed successfully by another 8-year-old, or else she's found some relief in the outlet of screaming and crying on the floor. (I can see how appealing that could be occasionally…)

* Mary-anne Scott has raised four boys and written three novels for young adults, all of which have been shortlisted for the NZ Book awards for children and young adults. As one of seven sisters, there aren't many parenting problems she hasn't talked over. Please note that Mary-anne is not a trained counsellor. Her advice is not intended to replace that of professional counsellor or psychologist.

- Stuff