“My 5 y.o. son Noah (with high functioning autism) will trantrum over all things big and small. If he is the least bit frustrated over something – well look out, because ‘it’s on’! Not uncommon for him to have a dozen tantrums in a day. I would be happy to just get that cut in half. Any tips for the chronic ‘tantrum-thrower’ would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.”
Your son threw the tantrum because he was frustrated or mad. Don't get into the issue of why he was “out of control.” Focus on the tantrum itself, explaining to Noah that the behavior isn't appropriate. Then teach him what he should do instead when he feels upset.
Here’s a simple method that often works when done the right way:
1. First describe the behavior. For example, "You felt frustrated and threw a tantrum. You were throwing things, screaming and kicking the walls." You say this so your son will understand exactly what you are talking about.
2. Then you explain that tantrums are not proper behavior. Make sure that you are clear that the tantrum is “bad” – not your son. Say something such as, "Tantrums are not appropriate behavior. In our family, we don't kick, scream or throw things. That behavior is not acceptable."
This will have an impact on Noah, because like most children, he really does want to do the right thing and please you. You can help him by explaining that tantrums are the wrong thing to do when feeling upset.
As a side note, don't worry about using big words such as "inappropriate." If you use big words with Noah, he will learn big words. If you use only little words, he will learn only little words.
3. Next, give your son some alternatives. For example, "I know you felt frustrated and angry. When this happens again, what you do is say, “I'm angry! Can you say that?" Have Noah repeat the phrase after you.
4. Lastly, review what you have said. For example, "What are you going to say the next time you're angry?" Get Noah to repeat the phrase, "I'm angry!"
Then say, "The next time you're angry, are you going to scream?" Your son will probably say or indicate "no."
Then say, "The next time you're angry, are you going to throw things?" …and "The next time you're angry, are you going to kick?"
End up with, "Tell me again what you're going to do the next time you're angry."
You will have to repeat this discussion many, many times. It takes a long time for a youngster on the autism spectrum to learn how to control a tantrum and reach for alternatives instead.
Hunger + Tiredness + Low-Frustration Tolerance = Tantrums
Although the triggers for tantrums vary widely, the causes are often very simple, tiredness and hunger being the biggest two. Low-frustration tolerance is usually the third major trigger. Tantrums can occur as your son tries and fails at new tasks and struggles to express his frustration in an appropriate manner.
When tiredness and hunger are at play, you may have noticed Noah’s frustration level go from 0 to 100. If so, this is your cue to remove him from the situation and try to get him fed and rested. When tiredness and hunger are NOT at play, you may still notice your son’s frustration level gradually building up. This is why it’s important for him to learn to recognize when his uncomfortable emotions come into play.
When your son learns to identify when he is starting to feel frustrated, he can then learn to take advantage of the other alternatives. But, this requires having an understanding of his emotions. You will want to focus on nurturing your son’s self-awareness with respect to his feelings. Make it your goal to help Noah reach a place where he is able to pause and self-reflect – even in the grip of intense emotions – then constructively answer two questions: “What am I feeling?” and “What do I need?"
When it comes to coaching your son in managing his emotions, you will want to follow some basic ground rules for healthy discussions on the matter:
- Consistently prove to your son that it’s safe to share his feelings with you. Whenever and however Noah reveals his emotions (e.g., through angry outbursts or tearful whispers), it’s important that you remain calm, keeping your own responses and emotions in check.
- Explain to your son that emotions are not right or wrong, including frustration and the subsequent anger. However, what is right or wrong is how he behaves when he is upset in this way.
Best of luck!
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Aspergers and HFA