How to Deal with Special Needs Tantrums

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Working with students who have tantrums related to special needs can be challenging, but there are also many opportunities for it to be rewarding. This lesson offers ideas and strategies for dealing with tantrums in students with special needs.

The Challenge of the Tantrum

Mrs. Blackman is a fifth grade special education teacher who works in an inclusive setting, or one where typically developing kids work alongside those with individualized education programs (IEPs). This year, she has noticed that her students with special needs are academically more competent than students she has taught in the past, but she is struggling with many of their behavioral challenges.

One thing that Mrs. Blackman finds especially difficult is the fact that she has many students who regularly have tantrums, or fits of dysregulation. Tantrums can involve a variety of behaviors, including the following:

  • screaming
  • physical flailing
  • hitting, biting, and other forms of aggression
  • throwing oneself on the floor
  • crying uncontrollably

Most fifth graders rarely, if ever, have tantrums, but as Mrs. Blackman knows, tantrums happen more frequently in students with special needs. These students grow more easily overwhelmed, have limited self regulation, and struggle more with finding language to express their strongest feelings.

Safety First

Mrs. Blackman decides that when addressing a tantrum in her students, the first thing she needs to think about is safety. This means focusing on the physical safety of the student who is having the tantrum as well as the other students in the class. Emotional safety is also paramount, but in the face of a tantrum, it must play second fiddle to physical safety.

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