Once a tantrum has started, stopping it is difficult. Rock-em sock-em tantrums are unlikely to be corrected by rational pleas or explanations. Foster parents need a three-step approach. First, do what you can to prevent a tantrum. Second, stop the out-of-control behavior. Third, re-engage the energy in another activity.
Two-year-olds are especially prone to tantrums. Think of their position in life. They have discovered that they can have an opinion and express it, but they have limited speech and little life experience. They have strong wants, and when those wants are frustrated, they have limited ways to deal with the situation. With such limitations, adults might also choose to have a tantrum.
Small children can erupt anywhere and at any time, but they are more likely to do so when they are hungry, tired, or frustrated. As foster parents arrive at a better understanding of their child, they can anticipate some tantrums with a snack, a nap, or by avoiding strange and new situations.
Don’t reward the upset child by trying to talk him into behaving. Too often, such behaviors are seen as a way to get attention. And the child may continue the tantrum in anticipation of the desired payoff.
If a child has a tantrum while shopping and the parent buys a treat to interrupt the tantrum, the tantrums are likely to become more frequent. When the tantrums occur in a store, the solution is obvious. Tell your foster-child once to stop it. If that fails, don’t threaten or punish. Instead, pick up the child and leave the store immediately. The same technique applies when visiting a friend. Parents are physically bigger than two-year-olds. Move with the child to an empty room and wait out the tantrum behavior. If the child continues to be unhappy, end the visit.
When a child is having a tantrum, look for a non-verbal way to regain control. One mother picked up her out-of-control foster-daughter and sat her on an armless high stool. Her foster-daughter had to concentrate on balance and consequently was unable to throw herself around in a tantrum. As soon as she settled down, mother picked her up, gave her a hug, and turned her free. Any age-appropriate physical activity might work to capture the anger.
A child in the midst of a tantrum is a very unhappy child. Avoid rewarding the tantrum. Reasoning is impossible and scolding is cruel. Interrupt the tantrum by some physical tactic. Then give the child a chance to calm down and move on.