Managing Temper Tantrums in School

Instructor: Clio Stearns

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

Temper tantrums can be difficult to manage regardless of the setting, but they are especially challenging in school. This lesson gives you some ideas for strategies you can use as a teacher to handle temper tantrums.

The Tantrum

Ms. Carson, a second grade teacher, has really been struggling this year. Though academics are going well in her class, she has two students whose behavior challenges her frequently.

In particular, June and Rocco are known for their prolonged and dramatic temper tantrums. Ms. Carson knows all about tantrums; her own two-year-old has them frequently as well! June and Rocco's tantrums are similar; they involve screaming, crying, loss of physical control, flailing and sometimes lashing out.

A child having a temper tantrum can be difficult to handle in the classroom.
child tantrum

Yet these tantrums are particularly challenging in a school setting, where regulation is important, and Ms. Carson is responsible for maintaining the safe experience of all students in the class. Ms. Carson decides to spend some time researching how to handle tantrums in school.

Prevention Plans

After talking to colleagues, Ms. Carson realizes that the first thing she needs to learn about is prevention, or how to stop a tantrum before it even starts. She learns three important strategies:

  • Identifying triggers

Ms. Carson knows that June has tantrums when she is hungry, and Rocco has them when academics get especially frustrating. She provides June with an extra morning snack and previews tough academic tasks with Rocco to try to support their positive behaviors.

  • Minimize stimulation

Like many students, June and Rocco have tantrums when they are overstimulated. Ms. Carson tries to keep the atmosphere of her classroom calm and well managed over the course of the day.

  • Offer supports

Ms. Carson also learns that many students have tantrums because they are emotionally stressed. She meets with Rocco and June's parents to try to get these children some counseling and other social supports for tantrum prevention.

Calming Strategies

Not all tantrums can be prevented, however. Ms. Carson turns her attention to de-escalation techniques, or how to nip a tantrum in the bud and prevent it from getting really out of control. She learns that de-escalation can help the student save face while preventing stress and duress for herself and other students in the class. Some calming techniques include:

  • Speaking to the student in a very calm voice
  • Helping the student articulate his or her feelings in clear words
  • Removing the student from the crowd
  • Helping the student slow his or her breathing and take deep breaths
  • Getting the student to cuddle a soft toy or squeeze on a stress reducing tool
  • Gently stroking the student's back or head
  • Giving the student some paper on which to draw or write

Ms. Carson finds that all students de-escalate in different ways, but as she gets to know her students better, she is well equipped to select calming strategies that work for them. She also learns that it is important to prioritize safety, removing students in the midst of a tantrum from sharp objects or other students they could accidentally injure.

Buddy Teacher

Ms. Carson also learns that a great way to handle temper tantrums is to team up with a buddy teacher, or a colleague who is willing to partner with her. When Rocco has a temper tantrum that is not responding to de-escalation techniques, Ms. Carson sends another student to ask her buddy teacher to come.

Her buddy teacher retrieves Rocco and removes him from the classroom until he is able to calm down. The purpose is not to punish Rocco for his tantrum, but rather to give him the opportunity to be in a different space, relax, and compose himself adequately to rejoin the group.

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