Temper tantrums are a frustrating, yet normal part of childhood.  Basically, it is a child’s way of dealing with frustration and disappointment.  It’s also a way for children to begin to try to establish some independence from their parents and caregivers.

Why Kids Have Tantrums

Temper tantrums come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from whining and stomping feet to full-blown yelling, kicking and screaming.  Some children may hold their breath, vomit or become physically aggressive.  Tantrums are equally common in boys and girls and usually occur between the ages of 1 and 3, although they can often longer).

Kids’ temperament differs and each child has a different frustration tolerance, meaning some children can handle disappointment better than others.  Unlike adults, kids are not able to control their feelings as well so frustration can often turn into a full-blown tantrum, especially when the child is tired or hungry.

Kids Tantrum Because They’re Frustrated at Not Getting What They Want, Not Being Understood and an Increasing sense of Autonomy

 

When you think about it, toddler frustration is understandable. Imagine always being told that you can’t have what you want, that you’re too young, that is too late to stay up, that you can’t watch the program you want to and that you can’t wear what you want.  Depending on their level of communication, toddlers may have real trouble actually communicating their needs so others can understand them. This can also be very frustrating.  Most parents do find that as language skills improve, tantrums decrease.

As children grow, they are also faced with an increasing need for independence and control over their environment. They want to do it on their own, though often, they aren’t old enough to do so, causing frustration.

How to Avoid Tantrum

While it’s not possible to avoid tantrums, altogether, it is possible to take a few proactive steps to arm your toddler with enough emotional energy, a sense of autonomy and control over their environment to greatly reduce the frequency and intensity of the tantrum.

  • Respect your child’s limits: Make sure your child isn’t tired, hungry, scared or bored.
  • Spend time with your child: Are the tantrums a sign that your child needs some more of your attention? To a child, any attention, even negative attention, is better than none.
  • Give your child some control: If it’s a choice that really doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things, like which shirt or which type of juice, let your child pick what they want. Offering minor choices like whether they want a story before or after they brush their teeth rather than a question they can answer “no” is key.
  • Keep certain objects out of sight: While it’s not always possible to keep enticing objects out of your child’s view but if you can, do.
  • Distraction: Trying to distract your child with a joke, story or game may work if the tantrum hasn’t progressed too far.
  • Give plenty of notice: It’s hard to quit a loved task right in the middle. Give your child 10, 5 and 1 minute warnings before changing or stopping an activity.
  • Praise positive behaviours: When the child is able to gain control themselves, praise his or her behaviour.

When Your Child Begins To Tantrum

  • Stay calm: The temper tantrum isn’t about you; it’s about your child. As hard as it may be, try to stay calm, speak softly and soothingly to your child.
  • Avoid reasoning with your child during a tantrum: They aren’t in a place to listen or respond coherently. Wait till the tantrum is over before trying to talk to discuss their behaviour.
  • Verbalize what your child might be feeling: While speaking softly and soothingly, try to express what your child may be feeling. Saying “I know you must be tired,” or “I can tell you are really disappointed,” will help your child verbalize his or her feelings in the future.
  • Make sure your child is safe: Remove objects that may hurt your child.
  • Model positive behaviour: If you are having difficulty maintaining your calm, model time out behaviour. While the safety of your child is key, if you can, calmly tell your child you’re frustrated and you need a time out. Leave the room for a moment to gather yourself before going back to your child.
  • Model emotional coping techniques. Show your child how adults can find other ways of coping with stress and anger besides yelling and screaming. Use phrases like “I’m upset now, but I’m going to figure out how to fix this.”

If you’re in public or with others, you can simply explain that your child is having a tough time, excuse yourself and move out of the situation. Leave the room, go to the car, or go home. Do whatever you need to do swiftly and matter–of–factly. It’s important not to give the tantrum attention, either positive or negative.

Most children will outgrow temper tantrums by the age of 4. With time and their parent’s help, most children learn healthy ways to handle the strong emotions that can lead to temper tantrums. While temper tantrums are, unfortunately, a natural event in the life of toddlers, with good modeling of positive behavior and effective coping strategies, both parent and child can emerge from toddlerhood relatively unscathed.

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