Do you know why your kid throws a fit when you ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do? Or why your kid throws a fit when you tell her to use the green – not red – cup? The phrase, “kid throws a fit” is used to describe when children express an emotional outburst, also known a temper tantrum. This may look like the child going limp, complaining or whining loudly, and is sometimes accompanied by flailing appendages. So, here are FIVE possibilities why your kid throws a fit, so you can understand, and possibly prevent it. But then are FIVE steps to take when your kid throws a fit so you can help her out of it.
Consider 5 possibilities why a kids may throw fits:
1. There is always a reason.
If you find yourself thinking, “He’s doing this for NO REASON” hear this: There is ALWAYS a reason; you just don’t always know what it is! Changing your thoughts and words from, “She’s throwing a fit for no reason!” to “I wonder why she is having such a hard time?” is going to help your brain shift from figuratively throwing up its hands in defeat into a problem-solving mode. This doesn’t necessarily mean the reason is going to magically appear – but it DOES mean that it is much more likely to do so!
2. They are egocentric.
Being self-centered is the default position of the human race. It means that we want what we want when we want it. It is your job to help children know you understand it’s difficult to wait for something – or not get it at all – and to give them tools to successfully navigate these feelings. You may have seen grown adults acting like spoiled children when the world doesn’t go their way. While we are ALL guilty of this behavior at times, if you don’t make the conscious effort to help your children process these hard situations now (rather than giving in to them to avoid them from throwing a fit), everyone is going to suffer for it later.
3. They may have some physical discomfort.
Have you ever been so hungry you feel angry at everyone around you? Yeah, me too (and we’re adults). In our home we call it being “hangry.” Imagine being three years old, not aware that low blood sugar is causing you to feel and act irritably, and since you don’t yet have the skills to regulate those feelings, you fall on the floor kicking and screaming! What else would you expect? Or, if your child recently ate, perhaps he is experiencing a food sensitivity. Or maybe she is tired, worn out or is getting sick and doesn’t yet have the words or awareness to tell us this!
4. They may have an emotional need.
ALL of us – kids included – have more stress today than ever before. If you are feeling anxious, your kids are going to mirror this. If you are constantly going from activities to play-dates to errands to other events, without allowing time for family connections (unplugging in your home with no agenda other than to rest and connect relationally), you are going to burn out. Sometimes kids are overstimulated, afraid, frustrated, or unsure where they fit in this big world – especially if you live in a blended family where they may have to go between households and expectations. Since young children often don’t have the ability to process information rationally, these overwhelming feelings can result in meltdowns and fits.
5. Your expectations may be inconsistent, unclear, or unrealistic.
You may take for granted that your kids should KNOW how to socially navigate certain situations. After all, you’ve TOLD them before, right? In reality, you need to hear and practice a skill at least 400 times in context to really learn it. Understanding this can help you adjust your expectations of your children’s performance AND help you remember the need to be consistent in modeling. For example, if they can sometimes watch TV before breakfast, but sometimes they cannot, that is inconsistent and confusing. Or, if you are getting ready to leave after visiting friends. You tell your kids to clean up and say goodbye. But then stand there talking with your friend for another 10 minutes. That can be unclear and frustrating.
The best thing to do in these circumstances is to recognize what you did, and apologize to your child. “I realize I told you to get ready to leave, but then I wasn’t ready to leave. I know waiting is hard, especially when you don’t know what’s going on. I’m working on doing better with this. Will you please forgive me?”
Finally, make sure that your expectations are age-appropriate. In most cases, a teenager can (and should) get himself up and ready for the day. He can also be expected to do his own laundry and be responsible for other household chores. But, of course that’s unrealistic for a five year old to manage! How about expecting a five year old to clean his room to your standards? Depending on your child, this could be such an overwhelming task that it could create anxiety that leads to throwing a fit!
Five Steps to Help When Your Kid does Throw a Fit:
1. Stop, Breathe, Pray (SBP): Take a deep breath, praying to see your child the way God does. Breathe out and ask Him to help your child be able to hear your words. Now, breathe in and feel thankful you have this opportunity to teach your child a different way to handle overwhelming feelings. Breathe out, knowing that you have what it takes to connect with your child in this moment. (Click here for a free video training on this)
2. Move to eye level and touch (if your child is OK with it) and say: “You really wanted (candy before dinner/to watch TV/that toy) and you can’t have it and that stinks.” or “You’re legs and arms are flailing all around. Your body is trying to say you feel (angry or frustrated or hungry or tired)” <—Just GUESS at what you think they’re feeling! They’ll let you know if you’re wrong! “I can see you are feeling really upset. I am going to keep you safe and help you through this hard time. You are not alone. You can handle this.”
*Repeat Steps 1 & 2 until your child makes eye contact (Connects) with you.
3. Once you’re connected, empathetically set the limit: “It’s hard when you (don’t know what else to do/feel frustrated/are overwhelmed), but you cannot (hurt yourself, or hit your brother or throw things or kick me) when you don’t get what you want.”
4. Continue connecting with eye contact and touch and tell her what TO do: “When you feel like this, you can (say, ‘I feel angry’ or you can squeeze your toy dog, or you can tell us you want to be alone and sit on your bed) to handle this hard feeling.”
5. Explain that feelings can be overwhelming, but you are going to help him through: “I felt frustrated/worried/annoyed when you were throwing that fit. But then I breathed deeply and remembered that big feelings can be overwhelming and it’s my job to help you with them.”
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Have you tried this at home with your kids? Please, comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
Kate Fraiser is a Parent Coach with Connect Point Moms helping you create stronger relational connections with the children in your life. This starts with being aware of your own stuff so you can BE PRESENT with your children in the moment you’re in, and then knowing and using the best ways to communicate with them. For quick and helpful parenting videos, find her on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, or Facebook.