Dear Dr. Rene,
I am a mother of four, and am expecting a fifth. Our second to youngest child is throwing really bad tantrums in school. These tantrums are out of control and disrupt the entire class. The school is talking about suspension because this is interrupting the whole K, first and second grade hallway. I have tried everything I can think of from taking away special toys and explaining she has a choice to throw a tantum. I thought by six years old she would not be having these tantrums, but they still seem to be problematic.
Andrea, Mother of Five
This is a difficult situation all the way around. There are a few things to do at home and a few things to do at school that may be helpful. I would ask if there is a space provided for children to be alone, to calm down and regain themselves that is also safe. This might be a quiet corner of the classroom or the waiting area of the nurse’s office. It would be best if this is away from the other children and somewhere she can take herself. There is a preschool near us that has a small house filled with beanbags and pillows. When children feel overwhelmed and angry they are invited in to help themselves settle. This works by removing the audience and social reinforcement as well as provding a calming setting. It is hard to stay mad when you are lounging on bean bags.
A thing to do at school and at home is to focus on teaching emotions language, better ways to express and ways to calm. These are things that are helpful to most children in overcoming tantrums, take a long time to learn and best if reinforced at home and school. it is best to teach these things out of the moment, when all are calm. If you wait and try to teach these things when children are emotional and overwhelmed, they are not in a good place to learn.
Likely, it is best to avoid disciplining behaviors that happen hours earlier in school. If it is a big enough behavior that you were made aware of, the child was already disciplined at school. If it is several hours later, the child may not connect those things well. I am not saying just let it go, but rather focus heavily on coaching the new behavior. Talk to your child about the thing that happened at school, brainstorm better options, together find ways for the child to make amends and do better the next day.
With tantrums, it can be helpful to lean about “charting a behavior,” in this case it is focusing on triggers (what sets a child off) and cue behaviors (signs they are about to tantrum). This would have to be done in the school setting, so by the teacher or guidance counselor. It would mean a bit of observation time and record keeping, but would provide helpful information, so the school can be more prepared to manage the upset.
There is a full discussion of these ideas on our http://www.askdrrene.com/ website, in the recorded workshop on manageing tantrums. There is also a good book titled No More Meltdowns, which is about managing tantrums in school age children.