Understand why your toddler might have temper tantrums, find out tips for how to handle and reduce them, and hear how they may even have some benefits!
If you've got a young child, chances are you'll have experienced a temper tantrum. The average is around one a day. Hopefully, unlike me, it wasn't in the middle of the supermarket isle as a stream of concerned onlookers walked by, giving you sympathetic, judging or condemning looks. But enough about me and my toddlerdom-battle scars!
So why do they happen? And how can we, as the grown-ups, help our little ones learn from these experiences and manage these emotions.
It’s good to remember that young children are inexperienced humans. They've been on the planet for a very short time and have limited ability to communicate. Yet they still feel powerful emotions - just like adults.
Toddler bodies and brains are growing at an extraordinary rate and learning to control both takes time. So many things are hard - taking turns, using the toilet, getting dressed - the list goes on. And speaking of control, parents and caregivers control where they go, what they do, what they eat and when they go to bed, giving them very little (or no) control themselves over these things.
Is it any wonder children sometimes cry, whine, throw things, or fling themselves on the floor?
Tantrums are almost always a young child's way of expressing frustration, anger, sadness, fear, stress, or confusion. They are generally not attempts to manipulate or control adults.
While alarming, tantrums can actually have some benefits:
Try to minimise frustrations that often lead to tantrums. Children are more likely to melt down when they're tired, hungry, confused, or frustrated.
Offer a Diversion
Before your child reaches full meltdown mode, change the environment.
Healthy Limits and Reasonable Expectations
Create simple, realistic expectations for children and stick to them, but don't expect perfection. Ask yourself, "What rules does my child need for healthy, happy growth and development? What rules are unnecessary?" Try to limit or make waiting time more engaging for young children and avoid taking them to places where they must be quiet or sit still for long periods of time.
Teach Skills and Foster Confidence
Frustration reduces when children feel trusted, confident, and capable so gradually give your child more freedom and responsibility.
Accept they're normal.The phrase "temper tantrum" is loaded with preconceived ideas and misconceptions, but tantrums are a normal part of early childhood. A tantrum is one way children express themselves before they learn more socially appropriate methods. Tantrums do not mean that the child is bad, manipulative, or spoiled. Nor do they mean that the parent is lazy or permissive. Sometimes our anxiety around temper tantrums can actually increase their frequency.
Be still. Temper tantrums (and other powerful expressions of emotion from children) often make adults feel threatened or uncomfortable. But here's the thing: you can't take away or change your child's emotions. Trying to fix it or talking your child out of a tantrum almost always leads to an escalation. Instead, try getting quiet. Lower your voice or even whisper. Show empathy. Offer a hug if your child wants to be comforted. Say something that acknowledges your child's frustration. "I see how sad and angry you are. I want to help you find a solution when you are ready." Don't allow your child to destroy property or hurt others though. "I know you're feeling angry, but you can't kick the wall or hurt your sister. You can cry, talk to me about it, hit a pillow, or draw a picture. Maybe you have an idea too."
Stand strong. So what happens if a tantrum occurs because you've set a limit, a limit that you know is ultimately helpful and necessary for your child's safety and growth? You quietly, patiently, and confidently stand strong. "I know you're angry, but it's my job to keep you safe. The answer is still no." Just as you set healthy boundaries with the adults in your life, you can set healthy boundaries with your child. In this situation, you respect your child and yourself.
Remember: Temper tantrums won't last forever, they're usually not cause for concern, and they should decrease in frequency and severity as children get older and learn to control their emotions.