Ask AF: Comforting a Child During Temper Tantrums

Should you punish or soothe? The AF expert explains how to help temper tantrums after adoption.

Q: My youngest daughter lived with a foster family for two years before we adopted her. The adoption, however, wasn’t finalized until she was 4 years old, so she lived in limbo for quite some time.

I’ve read about adopted children’s tendencies to push your buttons and then gather you close, and my daughter seems to be going through this. I believe it’s a result of leaving her foster family. Lately, her temper tantrums are becoming extreme. How do I calm and comfort her in the midst of one?

A: Instead of sending a child off to a bedroom or another isolated room until they’ve finished a tantrum, we find that the best way to reduce tantrums is for a parent to stay with the child throughout the messy ordeal.

If you stay with her, hold her, talk to her, and try to comfort her, she will eventually run out of steam. At that point, you will be in a position to offer even more nurturing, and she will be in a receptive mode.

Another strategy involves what’s called a paradoxical intervention. When your daughter is about to have a tantrum, try instructing her to do so. As in, “Honey, I think that it must be time for a real loud tantrumlots of screaming, kicking, and so forth (whatever she usually does).”

This kind of approach almost always causes the child to refuse to comply. This, along with a parent sometimes joining in by screaming, kicking, rolling on the floor, and so forth, can be quite effective. You will find many more suggestions in Parenting the Hurt Child, the book Regina Kupecky and I wrote.

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