You’re Too Old For That: Child Tantrums at Age 5 – 9

Mercedes Samudio, LCSW by Mercedes Samudio, LCSW

child tantrums

The terrible twos:

we’ve all heard of this stage in a child’s development.

It’s the period of time that most parents fear and are, at times, unprepared for.

However, the toddler years are not the only time that children display tantrum behavior.

And, you thought you were in the clear once you passed 3 years old!

Tantrums during middle childhood [from ages 5-9 years old] are more unsettling and embarrassing to parents because they believed that they were in the clear after the toddler years.

The tantrums at this age look a lot different for several reasons:

  • Children now have developed more words and understand the meaning of the words;
  • Children have experienced more social situations that inform how they react, and;
  • Children now beginning to think of themselves as part of a larger world that they can affect.

All these reasons collide to produce a child who does not know how to regulate his emotions or how to effectively ask for what they need.

One more thing to understand about child tantrums,  is that many children have developed tantrums as a way to get their needs met, or as a way to get attention from the parent.

But, alas, parents, there is hope to help your child successfully navigate through this behavior.

When your middle childhood aged child begins to show signs of tantrum behavior [or is already displaying child tantrums],  the rule of thumb is to begin developing limits and boundaries in the household.

Do not try to smother child tantrums with fear and punishment.

Why, you ask?

Using fear to quell these behaviors actually gives your child a model of how to express their negative emotions, which is to use intimidation and fear to get their needs met.

And, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to exacerbate these behaviors?

I’m correct, right?

Limits and boundaries look similar to punishment, but the main difference is that you’re using them to change a negative behavior to a positive one.

Here are some tips to begin establishing a limits and boundaries regiment in your home:

1. Chores. Seems like this would definitely make your child angrier. However, giving your child chores shows them a way to elicit positive feedback from you, parent. As you child begins to succeed in doing the dishes or making up his bed, you can show they that you appreciate his contributions with praise. This creates a positive boundary whereas your child can gain your attention without resulting to negative behaviors and child tantrums.

2. Rewards. Many parents gripe are this idea. Most wonder why a child should be praised for things he should do on his own. However, just like chores, when a child can earn rewards they obtain positive attention from their parent, that reinforces the idea that using child tantrums to get their needs met is not the most effective way to get their needs met. Also, it gives the parent a break from yelling. You can begin to focus on praising your child with small rewards [such as extra time on the computer or going to see a movie]. Rewards, when used consistently, can be great reinforcements to establishing limits in the home.

3. Praise. This leads me to another way you could try to help your child learn how to get their needs met without resulting to child tantrums—praising them. It can be a small praise [such as “I like the way you got up and got dressed this morning without arguing”] or something larger [such as “I appreciate when you help around the house without being asked”]. Parents sometimes have a hard time finding positive things to say to a child while the child tantrums, but interestingly enough, praising a child [even during a tantrum] helps the child to calm down. As difficult as it can be, try to find the small things your child is doing each week and acknowledge it.

4. Feelings Words. The last tactic a parent can use will require a lot of patience from the parent, but will be the best skill your child can develop. The use of feelings words to express what they need or how they feel. The reason why it will take a patience is because the parent will have to start using feelings words as well in their everyday language to model for their child how to use this skill. For example, instead of telling your child that they are lazy for not cleaning their room, a parent can state, “It makes me upset when I ask you to clean your room and you do not do it.” Alternatively, sometimes a parent can even begin to talk about their day with feelings, stating, “I feel tired today because I had a long day at work.” It begins to show your child that they can express themselves by using feelings words they can still get their voice heard and their need met.

Child Tantrums can be difficult to manage. However, just like when your child was a toddler, the most important thing is to teach your child how to get their needs met without using negative behaviors.

It will be hard, parent, to change your child’s understanding that they cannot get their way with a tantrum.

Still, with consistency, and tons of patience, you can shift your child’s behavior from tantrums to telling you what they need.

Feelings Words resource >>

Tips for handling child temper tantrums >>

Parents of children with tantrums – are we making it worse? >>

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