Tantrum Comic

Tantrums are a problem for parents whether their child has autism or special needs, or even if they are typically developing. Often times the approach to tantrums can be as simple as identifying why it happens, and using it as a teaching opportunity to ensure that your little one doesn’t learn the wrong lesson from how you react. Let’s start with a few basics.

Identify the Function of the tantrum:

You can identify the function of the tantrum but looking at a few simple scenario. Look at the following grid and see if any of these four behavioral functions (attention, access, escape or automatic) apply to your little one. If you notice that they may all apply, start with one situation where only one of the following functions occur. For example, if your little one tantrums to avoid going to bed, but also tantrums to get a candy at the grocery store, pick one scenario to focus on for this exercise.

Four Basic Functions of Behavior



“When I tantrum people pay attention to me!”o   I think my child tantrums to get attention.o   Does your child tantrum then looks at you to see if you notice?o   Does your child tantrum in order to get a reprimand? (Remember attention doesn’t have to be positive!)

o   Does your child tantrum to get a reaction out of you?

o   Does your child tantrum to get hugs/to be calmed/soothed?

Access to Tangibles“When I tantrum I get an object/event that I like!”o  I think my child tantrums to get an item/activity/foodo   Tantrums because denied an item/activity/foodo   Tantrums because someone has something he wants

o   Tantrums because he typically gets the item/activity as a result of the behavior

Escape“When I tantrum I get to avoid doing something I don’t want to do!”o   I think my child tantrums to get out of a task or instruction they don’t want to do.o   Tantrums after being given an instruction/tasko   Tantrums to delay starting the unpreferred task

o   A Tantrum results in “getting out of” having to complete the task

o   Tantrums in the behavior to avoid doing something

Automatic“Sometimes I tantrum no matter what is happening; I just do it because it feels good!”o   Tantrums in the behavior regardless of contexto   Tantrums in the behavior when nobody is aroundo   Tantrums even when he has access to attention, toys, and no demands are placed

After you’ve identified the function, there are a few different strategies to pair with each function. Of course, be sure to consult with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or look into an e-Learning training before trying these at home. You can always search our extensive database for Applied Behavior Analysis services that can help you address your child’s tantrums!


Four Basic Consequences of Behavior




When I tantrum people pay attention to me!o   Avoid eye contact when your little one looks at youo   Stop/block/redirect the behavior without making a big fuss. You can even try looking away while you do it.

o   Try “catching them being good.” Give your little on attention (love, hugs, kisses, or whatever they like) when they’re not tantrumming. Try to do it often throughout the day as a preventative measure.

Access to TangiblesWhen I tantrum I get an object/event that I like!o   Do not provide the item that they are tantrumming for. Remember how you respond will teach them whether that behavior “worked” or not for their next tantrum.o   If your child can speak, ask them to request the item in a nice way. Do not give the item unless they ask nicely.

o   BEFORE the tantrum happens, you can use supports like a visual schedule to let them know when they’ll get access to the item based on their tasks. You can also use an “if/then’ strategy – “If you clean your room, then you can watch TV.”

EscapeWhen I tantrum I get to avoid doing something I don’t want to do!o   Don’t delay the activity just because the child is tantrumming.o   Make sure to follow through on the task. “I know you don’t want to clean your room, but we can do it together and it’ll be okay.” Don’t leave the “scene of the crime” until the task is completed.

o   Don’t put the child in time-out. This is a sure-way to delay the task for a few minutes, and then the tantrum worked!

AutomaticI tantrum no matter what is happening; I just do it because it feels good!o   Try finding a replacement behavior that can serve the same function. E.g. if your child likes to bang the table when they’re upset, you can teach them how to play the drum. This is called a replacement behavior and you just want to make sure that it’s functional, age-appropriate and provides the same feeling for your child. 

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