Dealing With Your Child's Explosive Behavior

by Ann Douglas

Dealing with child's explosive temperYour child quickly gets frustrated and angry about not being able to do something when told "No" and becomes this screaming/hitting child you don't recognize.

While a child's in the middle of a tantrum you won't be able to reach him and when he's done he is might still so angry he won't listen.

Can a mom keep the tantrums at bay?

Prevent the Problem

The simplest solution is to try to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. In addition to timing your activities well (don't go when he's hungry or over-tired or not feeling well), try using distraction to your advantage.

If, for example, your three-year-old finds it difficult to wait in line at the grocery store and starts whining for candy or running around, you could try to head off the problem by distracting before he has a chance to get too bored and antsy.

You might create some grocery store game cards before you leave home (so he can match colors, shapes, numbers, or letters on the cards to items in your grocery cart) or you might make up a game that will fill the time until you get to the front of the line (e.g. "I went to the store and I bought dinosaur milk to take to my house." "I went to the store and I bought dinosaur milk and dinosaur bread to take to my house.")

If that strategy fails miserably, plan to grocery shop alone until he gets a little older, whether that means leaving him in the care of a family member or trusted friend or switching to a grocery store that allows you to place your order online or by phone. Sometimes changing your routine is the best solution of all.

Model Anger Management

At the same time, begin teaching how to deal with those emotions. Start out by modeling good anger management skills yourself. Your actions speak more powerfully than any other lesson you can teach your child about coping with powerful emotions.

Show your child how to put on the brakes when she’s starting to become upset. Encourage her to pay attention to how her body is feeling so she can spot the warning signs that she’s becoming angry before she completely loses control.

  • Is her heart pounding?
  • Is her breathing more rapidly than usual?
  • Is she clenching her fists or the muscles in her face?

These are clues that she's becoming really angry.

Encourage your child to think before reacting so she has time to master her emotions. She may want to breathe deeply, engage in positive self-talk, or go for a walk in order to relieve stress. Sensory activities like soaking in a warm bath, creating a picture with finger paints, or playing the piano can be very effective.

Give your child some space. If she needs to be alone in order to regain her control, give her that space. Smothering her will only increase her stress level.

Offer to lend a listening ear or help her to brainstorm some possible solutions when she’s ready to talk.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site,

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to