Behaviours can be viewed as communication. There are reasons why children act the way they do, same goes for tantrums and misbehaviours. We have to first understand the motivations behind their behaviours, in order to effectively manage them.

Tips on handling tantrums:

  1. Understand the function of behaviour

When children throw tantrum or misbehave, we usually use the blanket term ‘naughty’ to describe their behaviours. However, from the behaviourist perspective, all behaviours serve a function and have a consequence. Here are the most common reasons why children throw tantrums:

  1. Escape from activity or demand
  2. Get something he/she wants (tangible items)
  3. Sensory stimulation
  4. Seeking attention from others

Sometimes, children’s behaviours can serve more than one function. It is possible to change children’s behaviour patterns by changing the consequence immediately following the behaviours. Therefore, it is very important to correctly identify the function of behaviour, so that it can guide us to choose the appropriate strategy to manage behaviours.


  1. Use an effective strategy to manage behaviours

Depending on the function of the behaviour, choose an appropriate strategy. Always go back to WHY a child is misbehaving in order to design your strategy.

For Example:
While mum is busy in the kitchen, Sam cries and has a meltdown in the living room. For the past week, mum has stopped what she’s doing to go out and tend to him. After observing this pattern for a while, we have reason to believe that his tantrum is for mum’s attention. A strategy would be to teach him to ask for mum’s attention appropriately (“come out mummy!”) so he doesn’t need to resort to crying.

Nancy has a huge tantrum at school and after careful observation, she seems to tantrum during maths, a subject she finds very challenging. A strategy would be to revise the maths programme or present tasks a little differently so to increase her success and motivation. A visual schedule with breaktime built-in right after maths may also encourage her to finish her maths.


  1. Be consistent

When we are trying to discourage problem behaviours, most children will act out even more! This is because tantrums and meltdowns have gotten them what they want in the past. If you believe you have an alternate strategy, stick to it and be consistent. Most of the time, things will get worse before they get better!