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3 Steps to DeCode Your Child's Tantrums

Do you ever find yourself standing in the doorway of your home, scratching your head and wondering why your child is having a meltdown over putting their shoes on?

What about that time, last week, when you wanted them to walk down the street holding your hand instead of "running a marathon" through the parking lot?

Have you ever watched your child stomp away from the table because the cheese is yellow and not white?

What is going on in your child's brain that causes these "unreasonable" outbursts? Are your child's meltdowns due to a lack of communication on their part? Is their attention-span short? Are they distracted easily? Are they upset at the same time everyday (before snack time, lunch time, before a major transition, etc)?

There are many reasons why children respond to requests, commands and directions differently. Answer the following three questions to find out why your child acts the way they do, and prevent future tantrums:

  1. What was the Antecedent - The antecedent means: "What happened before the incident or event". For example: What was your child doing before you asked them to put their puzzle in the toy box? (Example: banging the puzzle pieces together.)
  2. What was your child's Behavior - What did your child do when you asked them to put the puzzle in the toy box? (Example: They laid down on the floor, threw the puzzle pieces across the room and knocked over their juice cup with their foot.)
  3. What was your Response - What was your response to your child's behavior?  (Example: I looked at them with a puzzled look, wondering how am I going to get that red juice stain out of the carpet. Then I felt flustered and started to raise my voice while telling them to calm down.)

This process is called the "ABR" technique. You may have heard of the "ABC" technique before (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence), which is similar. For younger children, I switch out the "C" (consequence) for the "R" (response).

A consequence is a direct result of the behavior. Your response to their behavior teaches your child how to manage different situations in the future, and reminds you of how to prevent them from happening.

Here are some examples:

1. Screaming while playing.

  1. Antecedent: Your child is putting puzzles together.
  2. Behavior: Your child threw a tantrums.
  3. Response: After talking to your child (when they have calmed down) you find out your child was banging the two puzzle pieces together because they were frustrated. They were having trouble making each puzzle piece fit in their appropriate spots.
  4. Next time: Instead of asking that they put it away, you will help them find and rotate the puzzle piece so that it will work.

2. Walking through the parking lot.

  1. Antecedent: Your child is holding your hand walking out of the store.
  2. Behavior: Your child is running through the parking lot.
  3. Response: You are frantically chasing after them. Once you speak to your child, you find out that they saw a small flower blowing in the wind and they wanted to catch it.
  4. Next Time: Before you leave the store, you will ask your child to hold an object that you purchased so they have a job - reminding them that cars are around so they can't run ahead in the parking lot.

3. Melting down at snack time.

  1. Antecedent: Your child is hungry.
  2. Behavior: Your child starts to cry because the cheese that you handed them for snack is yellow and not white!
  3. Response: Once calm, you find out that when you said cheese, they thought you meant string cheese.
  4. Next time: Show your child their options before asking them to choose if they want cheese or an apple for snack.

It may seem like detective work, and as parents... when are you not a detective? .... (Where did that plate go? Who's shoes are on Charlies feet? How did he find my keys AGAIN...?)

Use this free ABR Chart (PDF)! to keep your observations organized!

How to calm your child down when they are crying, screaming and tantrumming:

The ABR process will help you decode your child's tantrums after they have calmed down, but what do you do when your child is in "mid-tantrum" phase?

Maybe you have tried everything, but can't calm them down. Is your patience dwindling and you are at a loss of what to do?

That's when Soothing Sammy can help! The Soothing Sammy kit teaches children how to calm down so that they can and talk about why they are mad!

Soothing Sammy will teach your child how to process their feelings, identify their emotions and problem solve in a way that is simple for them to understand and easy for parents to implement.


Want to know how Sammy helps your child calm down?


Every child and every situation is different. After completing the ABR chart and answering the listed questions, look for a pattern in your child's behavior.

Parents have the hardest job. You are taking care of a home, the health and well-being of your family.. and at the same time, you are trying to "figure out" and "DeCode" what your child is thinking at ALL times! How exhausting. I hope these tips and strategies provide you with more stress-free days!


1 comment

  • Excellent. This requires making time to think about these oustbursts, not easy but worth it.


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