Temper Tantrums: Taming the Spirited Child

Over 200 pairs of eyes are glued to me as a spirited child screams at the top of his lungs, “ORDER ME MY MEAL NOW!”

This spirited child has refused to order his own hamburger (as he has successfully done many times before!). When I calmly tell him he can either order it himself, or “go home without his burger,” he goes completely berserk.

Yes, suddenly I’m transported into a “food fare nightmare”—with my formidable opponent, an eight year old child. I feel my cheeks flush as public onlookers wait in complete stunned silence to see who will win—the big one or the little one?

Four Positive Parenting Keys to Taming Your Spirited Child’s Temper Tantrums

Over the years as a family counsellor and positive parenting educator, I have come to love working with spirited children and even enjoy handling the odd temper tantrum now and again from my own child.

Spirited children have a fire in their belly, a spark in their eye and a feisty attitude that assures a future of walking to the beat of their own drum, instead of blindly following the crowd. This is a trait, I might add, that many of us parents, claim we want for our children especially during the teen years.

Yet, when they turn their anger on us…well, (gulp!) sometimes it’s all we can do to keep it altogether. That day in the food fare I was worn out, completely embarrassed and on the verge of saying “I quit!” Fortunately, parenting is not a simple job that one can resign from. ;-)

The fact is, raising a spirited child can be exhausting.

Fortunately, there are some common sense positive parenting tools that have eliminated (nearly) all big fights, in which I was left angry and stressed to the max. They have also worked well for hundreds of my parenting clients.

So here are a few positive parenting tips that can support parents efforts in handling temper tantrums and taming the most spirited child, without taking their spirit away.

  1. Use parenting consistency. It’s simple. If you are not going to do it, then don’t say it! When you do say it, then be sure to follow through on EVERYTHING by using respect, courage and a patient tone (and if you are ready to loose it completely then use a mom time-out). Spirited children are gifted at manipulating “chances” and finding loopholes to obtaining exactly what they want. So hold your ground as calmly and firmly as possible—whatever you do, don’t back down unless you are clearly in the wrong and then, of course, respectfully apologize.

  2. Talk less, and act more. It seems most mothers in particular have the “gift of the gab,” which works well when hanging out with girlfriends, but not well when debating a spirited temper tantrum throwing child. It is good to remember that if you get into a debate with a spirited child you are certain to lose! This is why in my “food fare nightmare” example above, I gave two clear and simple options; to order the hamburger or go home without it (the talking less part); and then silently waited (the action part).

  3. Nurture your own patience, so you can experience peace. Waiting out a fight, without saying anything (especially if a temper tantrum erupts in public), can be one of the most difficult, yet important, things you ever do as a parent. Spirited children are bright—they know that the biggest weapon in their arsenal is to push your embarrassment button. Swallow your pride—do not cave in just because you are afraid of looking bad in public. Remember when we cave, our children learn to use this powerful parenting trump card every time they want their way in a public setting.

    Fostering our own patience often comes from taking a little time out for ourselves now and again—something many of us parents don’t do particularly well. Parenting children is exhausting (especially a feisty, spirited child). Find little ways to take time out yourself (share child care with a friend, chose to nap instead of clean, lock the bathroom door and have a bath, paint your toes bright fuchsia!) so you will have more energy, peace and patience to draw from during trying situations with your child.

  4. Make more time for good old family fun! With our increasingly busy and demanding schedules, it can be next to impossible to find time to have regular fun as a family. Yet, it is the families who play together most, that most stick together; and as a result, experience less temper tantrums. Make certain you are regularly having meals together, spending quality time together and just having some plain ol’ family fun together.

It is important to also make certain your spirited child is given room to respectfully voice their own opinion, has the chance to be responsible for tasks in your household and is appreciated for all the gifts and contributions they make.

Finally, it is useful to ensure that we as parents have tamed our own temper tantrum tendencies before helping our children to do the same. ;-)

What Does the Future Hold for The Spirited Temper Tantrum Throwing Child?

Fortunately, commonsense parenting does not mean letting your child get away with murder! A common sense parenting approach uses firm boundaries, mutual respect and positive child discipline—teaching a child to naturally learn and grow from their mistakes rather than fight you every step of the way.

These simple commonsense parenting tools can quickly tame the negative opposition, while still allowing and supporting a child’s beautiful spirit to flourish.

If you attempt to use traditional child discipline practices such as spanking, taking away privileges and using the time-out child discipline strategy to make your child do what you want them to do, without guiding them to see the wisdom in choosing your course of action, then you will continue to face an “Mt. Everest-size” uphill parenting battle.

In the midst of a fight with your child, you may wonder if there will be an end to the madness. I am here to tell you that there can be resolution to temper tantrum dramas.

In my case, these positive parenting tips allowed me to navigate parenting and temper tantrums with much more peace in my heart—to actually enjoy raising a spirited child. For us, we discovered that we both “won” when we focussed most on a common goal of peace and mutual respect. May it be the same for you and your family.

Lastly, when taming your spirited child remember to keep the faith, use positive parenting discipline skills, include more family fun and trust that eventually (like sleepless nights) “this too shall pass.”

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