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    How To Handle A Preteen Or Teen Tantrum

    Tumblr Thursday Guest Post By Cookie’s Kids Mom Amy Wang

    A Vancouver mom sends this question: “Sometimes pre-teens and teens can throw their own version of a tantrum: out of control, yelling, slamming doors or worse. What’s the best method to help defuse this situation in an older child (short of handcuffs) and turn it into a life-learning moment?" 

    For an answer, I turned to Allan Cordova, a child psychologist at The Children’s Program, a private clinic in Southwest Portland, and a father himself. 

    Cordova says the best time to think about defusing an adolescent tantrum is before it happens. "Prevention is often the best strategy,” he says. “Once something’s up and running, it can be really difficult to change the course of it." 

    Setting ground rules: Parents may want to consider tackling the issue of tantrums when their teens are in a good mood and open to talking. Cordova recently counseled a teen and a parent who agreed to use a "safe word” during disagreements: “If either one of them says it, that’s going to be a signal that they need to take a step back and calm down,” like the bell in a boxing match signaling the combatants to go to their corners. 

    Parents also need to keep an eye out for patterns – are there certain situations that trigger tantrums? If so, there may be something deeper going on that needs to be addressed, perhaps professionally, Cordova says. 

    How to defuse: Cordona has a few “don’ts” for parents who find themselves in the midst of a tantrum: 

    Don’t make threats or predict all the bad consequences of the misbehavior. “You don’t want to inadvertently reinforce the tantrum.”

    Don’t do a lot of talking in general. “You don’t want to give them the message that this is a good way to get your attention.”  

    Don’t ignore the child completely, though. That’s a sign of disrespect.

    Don’t get in the child’s face or follow him if he retreats to his room or somewhere else. “A lot of us as parents will have the impulse to say, ‘Don’t walk away from me when I’m talking to you’ or ‘I’m not done talking to you yet,’ ” Cordova says, but a child’s departure may actually be her own attempt to defuse the situation.

    Don’t restrain the child. Cordova says this “is almost never appropriate” – unless a parent feels that she, the child or someone else is in immediate physical danger or there is going to be significant destruction. In that case, “safety has to be number one." 

    Here are Cordova’s "dos”: 

    Do keep the lines of communication open and do stress that tantrums are not acceptable. Cordova suggests statements such as, “I want to understand what you’re saying but I don’t want to talk to you when you’re upset,” or “I’m interested in being available to you but not like this.”  

    Do remind the child of any ground rules about tantrums, such as a safe word. 

    Do stay calm. Parents “tend to escalate, too,” Cordova says, and can easily fan the flames of a tantrum if they get upset. 
    Do keep yourself and other family members safe. If a parent feels that he or the rest of the family is at risk, Cordova recommends leaving the room or even the home and taking any other children along.  

    Do watch out for the child’s safety, too. If a distraught child runs out of the house, Cordova says it can be appropriate for a parent to follow from a distance or contact the police, depending on the circumstances. An 11-year-old who takes off at night may be more at risk than a 16-year-old who slams out the door on a Sunday morning. 

    Do offer a way for the child to calm down. Cordova notes that in a tantrum, heart and breathing rates rise and the rational part of the brain is overtaken by the emotional center. Suggest strategies such as taking a shower or taking a few deep breaths. “Blowing bubbles is actually one that we recommend – you have to really slow your breath down in order to blow bubbles without popping them,” Cordova says. 

    Do discuss the disagreement later. “Most parents are just really relieved that the tantrum is over and they don’t want to stir up a hornets’ nest again,” Cordova says, but a discussion can be useful. A parent can say something like, “I could see how upset you were and I really want to understand that so it doesn’t happen again – if something like this happens again, next time, what is it you’d like me to do?”

    Do keep a sense of perspective. It’s not the end of the world if your teen screams at you and locks herself in her bedroom for the next three hours. Says Cordova, “In most families I know, this happens." 

    How do you handle pre-teen or teen tantrums? 


    About this Cookie’s Kids Mom

    Amy Wang

    Amy Wang is an assistant bureau chief in The Oregonian’s Metro South bureau in Oregon City. She edits the Clackamas County Community News section, the annual Season of Sharing Wishbook, and co-edits the Southwest Community News Section. She also blogs for The Oregonian’s parenting blog.[Original post at OregonLive.com]

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