Taming a tantrum
- Move the child to a private place as quickly as possible. That doesn’t mean physically restraining the child, but simply guiding him or her to a safe, quiet area.
- Do not call attention to the behavior itself. Do not ignore the child, but ignore the tantrum by not making specific comments about it such as “stop crying.”
- Engage in calming activities. Quietly playing on the floor even if the child continues to cry and scream can help a child de-escalate emotionally. Don’t force the child to engage, just do the activity and allow the child to cool down and make the next step of engaging in the activity on his or her own.
Source: Dr. Kindell Schoffner, psychologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Every parent of a kindergartner has probably experienced a child’s tantrum, but few would expect law enforcement to intervene. After Salecia Johnson, 6, was handcuffed and taken to the police station for throwing a tantrum at her school in Milledgeville, Ga., it left many asking, when is a tantrum just a passing tantrum and when is it a cause for concern?
“Even if there is no prior history of destructive (behavior), there may be signs of less severe behavior that are things to watch out for,” said Dr. Kindell Schoffner, a psychologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “A 6-year-old’s brain is still growing and because of that, their ability to cope with frustration and difficult situations is not as good as an older child.”
Milledgeville police accused the kindergartner of simple battery and property damage for knocking pictures from the wall, scribbling on walls and doors, slamming chairs, and upending a bookcase, injuring the school principal.
Candace Ruff, the child’s aunt who accompanied the mother to the police station, said Wednesday this was the first time the girl exhibited such extreme behavior. “She acts out as a regular 6-year-old, but she has never had a tantrum this extreme before,” Ruff said. Ruff also stated that according to the school principal, Salecia had at one point calmed down, apologized for her behavior and asked to go home.
“I think the school should have brought in the school counselor to address the child,” Ruff said. “If the counselor could not make ends meet with the child, a social worker could have been brought in to try to get some help in that regard.”
Citing student confidentiality laws, district officials declined to comment further.
Children have a wide range of behaviors, Schoffner said, and even older kids well past the tantrum-filled terrible twos, can revert back to previous ways of functioning.
Certain behaviors, Schoffner said, should sound the alarm for parents and school officials that a child may need help. Aggressive behavior, such as breaking objects, throwing things, kicking, biting or spitting at people and objects may be cause for deeper investigation, she said. Verbally threatening behavior or crying or screaming that goes on longer than five or 10 minutes are additional signs that a child may be having more than a simple tantrum.