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Taming Temper Tantrums

One of my "hobbies" is to go to Autism Workshops and parent meetings to discuss why kids with autism have temper tantrums. I think that it is as important to understand WHY the tantrum-like behaviors occur as it is to understand WHAT to do about the behaviors, don't you?

The Question That I Am Asked Most Often:

"So What Do You Do About Temper Tantrums?"

The following is my very own personal parental opinion regarding temper tantrums - I don't know! If you are asking about what to do when you are "in the moment" of a tantrum, I don't have an answer. I have heard rumors that rolling a child up in a big heavy mat and sitting on them a couple of hours works. But I would not do that to anyone's child, including my own. However, I do know what does NOT work.....

Getting emotional about a tantrum does not work. I have found that the more worked up and excited that I become, the worse the tantrum becomes.

Spanking, yelling, arguing, pleading, begging, reasoning, etc.,etc.,etc., does not work.

Bear hugs and holding does not work. This usually only results in wrestling matches that the World Wrestling Federation would be proud of, not to mention black eyes and split lips (have you ever been head-butted by a two year old!?! - it HURTS!!!!)

If someone out there comes up with "temper tantrum recipe" that works for every child in every situation please email me at once so that I can pass this information on to every parent of every child who has had a temper tantrum!

The best thing that I have found to do when Christopher has a temper tantrum is to remain calm, stand back, and let him kick and scream until the tantrum is over. I count to 100, recite the 23rd Psalm, or whatever it takes, but I basically wait it out until the storm passes. That may not be a "good enough" answer for some people, but it will have to do.

This website strongly supports the development and use of Positive Behavioral Supports to meet individual needs and the prohibition and prevention of the use of procedures that may cause physical and/or psychological harm, are dehumanizing and restrict the individual's right to dignity and self-determination.

One of the best Movies that I have ever seen is Apollo 13.

Not only do Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon give excellent performances as the three stranded astronauts,the movie also provides a wonderful model for effective problem solving strategies. I like this movie so much that I bought the video. I enjoy watching the NASA Ground Crew solve this seemingly insurmountable crisis. The mission control commander says "I know there are are a lot of things that have gone wrong! What I want to know is what have we got that's good that we can use to solve this problem?"

Think of your Special Education team, including yourself, as "Mission Control." Your child is like the stranded flight crew - doing the best he or she can to cope with the circumstances. While I am into analogies (I hate analogies, don't you) think of the damaged spaceship as the Autism that effects your child. Because of the autism, nothing is working or responding as it should. A tantrum is like all of the alarms and bells going off to indicate that something is very wrong and a solution should be sought to help the child regain control of his or her ship and survive the mission.

In order to Tame Temper Tantrums, you have to find out what "triggers" the tantrums and do what you can to eliminate or modify those triggers somehow. Sounds simple, right? It is not always so simple. Sometimes you have to put on your "autism hat" to try to figure out what is going on. Here are some examples of things that would trigger tantrums in my child and what we did to eliminate those triggers.

1. Getting Dressed for School Ever chased a child in his "birthday suit"?

2. The Kitchen Guessing Game Ever try to figure out what your child wants?

3. The Car Ride When was the last time you went anywhere in the car?

4. The Car Trip How about trips to Grandma's house?

5. Public Places Have you given up going to fun places?

6. Helium Baloons Can you imagine the problems this brings?

7. Potty Training I was told that he would never do this!

8. The Doctor's Office We spend too much of our time in doctor's offices.

9. Having a One Track Mind The ten dollar word for this is "perservation."

10. Perfectionism What if something is broken and can't be fixed?

This site contains educational and research materials. This information is not intended to be medical advice.

NOTE: Not all children who have autism will demonstrate tantruming behaviors. However, please email me about how you solved a temper tantrum or other behavior problem and I will add it to this site.

NOTE: If your child, student, or loved one with autism tends to become physically violent during tantruming episodes, please contact the Crisis Prevention Institute for training in Nonviolent Crisis Intervention techniques. Nonviolent Crisis Intervention is a safe, nonharmful behavior management system designed to help human service workers provide for the best possible care and welfare of assaultive, disruptive, or out-of-control persons even during the most violent moment.

If you feel your child has been physically abused, and the excuse was given "We know what we are doing, we have been trained in CPI." You may contact the President of CPI and he will answer any questions that you might have. Unfortunately, CPI may be misused, and the CPI corporation appreciates your concern regarding this issue.

Small efforts can add up to giant results.

Autism is marked by a central nervous system that has gone "haywire." For more information regarding sensory issues, such as hypersensitivity to touch, sounds, etc. check out this P.A.C.E. website! It is awesome!

FAITH makes all things possible .... LOVE makes it easy.

Temper Tantrums In Children With Autism: The Terrible Twos and Beyond
written by Janet Lawrence, Fall 1997, University of Louisville

Temper Tantrum Tracking Sheet written by Janet Lawrence, September 26, 1998

"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."
-Arthur C Clarke's Second Law

More Sites on The Web About Temper Tantrums:

Comprehensive Behavioral Support for Persons with Severe Behavior
Lou Sandler, Behavioral and Educational Consulting

What Are Some Characteristics of Autism?

Handling Tantrums

Tips for Temper Tantrums

The Truth About Temper Tantrums

Temper Tantrums and Two Year Olds

Taming the Toddler from Hell

Childhood Temper Tantrums

The Doctor's Office: Temper Tantrums

Taming Toddler Tantrums

Preschool Tantrum Trouble

The Terrible Twos in the United Kingdom
....tantrums are a universal topic!

A Letter from A Speech Therapist to A Parent

Dealing With Tantrums
This site offers a strategy known as "Planned Ignoring"

Kids:Who's the boss?

Positive Discipline for Preschoolers

Spanking Alternatives

The National Childcare Network:Taming Temper Tantrums

ParenTalk Newsletter:The Terrible Two's

Yahoo has HUNDREDS of listings for temper tantrums!

Web Page Author: Janet Lawrence
Updated: 7/01/00
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as of September 20, 1998