Temper tantrums are a normal part of child development. It can be in the form of crying, screaming, throwing things/themselves, kicking, or a combination of all. The key is learning how to deal with them calmly.
However frustrating it may be, it’s important to keep your cool. I have had to whoosah a couple of times because kids can try you. This is why I call the terrible twos ‘the try-me phase’.
As any parent would know, life with a toddler is never without tantrums. But it’s also full of love, hugs, and kisses which make the terrible twos more bearable.
Toddlers between the ages 1 – 4 aren’t yet able to control their emotions and behaviour or understand how to express themselves when they need or want something. A tantrum is an expression of that frustration.
At times they may experience an uncontrollable burst of anger that they don’t understand or have the ability to cope with. You need to understand anger issues in your child and what is the cause vs a normal tantrum.
It’s important to find the root of the issues instead of addressing the anger or outburst. Are they needing something, trying to express something, or is it a condition that needs to be addressed?
What causes temper tantrums?
As young children learn and become more independent, they try to do more things by themselves that they aren’t yet able to handle. This leads to frustration, which plays out in different ways and ranges from mild to outrageous.
Temper tantrums are worse and happen more often when a child is hungry, tired, or sick. Below are some of the reason why children have tantrums:
- Trying to get attention to get their way
- Being hungry or tired (my girl can hardly fall asleep by herself without a fight)
- Want their space, but can’t get what they want
- Commuting from daycare to home (being a drop-off/pick-up mom is full of adventure)
- Being told no or having something taken away
- Not yet knowing the words to say how they feel or want
- Not understanding what you want them to do
- Are worried or upset
- Stress from school or home
As parents, we need to help our children regulate and understand their feelings. One way in which kids learn is through mirroring.
Kids do as you do. As a result, your actions and behaviour will carry more weight in how they behave. Be a good example so they have a frame of reference for how to act.
When children get upset, parents should help them work through it and soothe their agitation, not inflame it.
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How can you prevent temper tantrums?
Temper tantrums can happen out of the blue, but you can be more prepared for them. Knowing when your child is more likely to have a tantrum can help you handle it better. An example is not letting your child become overtired or hungry.
Some suggestions for preventing or keeping temper tantrums to a minimum include:
- Try to keep outings short or don’t skip or delay meals or nap time.
- Please don’t bribe your kids. It will backfire. Encourage them with something they’re allowed to do or have that they love instead.
- no one is perfect. Don’t expect your child to be perfect.
- Talk to your child about any changes to their routine to prevent frustration.
- Let your child know your rules and boundaries and stick to them.
How to deal with a temper tantrum
- Identify the cause
Take time to listen and identify the cause of your child’s anger. It may frustrating, but don’t lash out or get impatient with them. Address the reason for their anger and create a safe environment for them to freely open up. Isolating a younger child after an outburst may lead to feelings of abandonment as they don’t have the coping mechanisms to soothe themselves.
- Allow them space
A time-out works best for older children. Allow them space to think about the situation and give them time to think about their actions. When addressing your child regarding their behaviour remain calm. Maintain a reassuring presence to diffuse the meltdown and be an example of how they should behave.
- Stay calm and listen
It can be hard to stay calm, but you need to acknowledge their feelings. It’s vital to respond to their anger and aggression calmly instead of with anger. Set the rules then give them choices. You want your child to know you love them without shaming them. Don’t label or compare your child as this will break their self-esteem.
Calming techniques during a tantrum
Teach your child calming techniques and practice with them.
Don’t underestimate the power of long breaths. Your child may not fully understand but try and help them calm their breathing. This may be more for your own sanity than theirs but it helps.
- Level down
Come down to your child’s level. Speak in a stern but low voice. This is where you lovingly state the boundaries and let them know the outcomes of their tantrum.
- Ignore the tantrum
It may be impossible to ignore a tantrum in public spaces, but sometimes kids just want to get a reaction. Ignoring the tantrum or stepping away can be the best solution, especially if the tantrum is not due to hunger, tiredness, or illness.
Kids will push your buttons when they lash out. It’s important to gather yourself and not respond in anger. This can harm your child during their formative years and start a cycle of anger that continues into adulthood.
You never want to lose your temper in front of your children. If you have unprocessed trauma from past experiences, you need to start your own healing process.
Remember that your child’s sense of self is moulded through your actions and words. Remind yourself that your child is still learning and may not know all the rules before they break them, so set limits and boundaries.
Don’t act out in anger. Find a quiet space where you can calm down before addressing the issue. Self-awareness is the first step in change. It will help channel self-control and set the tone for how you handle a tantrum.
Take deep breathes to help calm you down.
It’s essential to let your child know if you’re upset and let them know how an outburst made you feel. It helps understand the outcomes of their actions and will help them assume more responsibility for their actions as they grow up.
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When is it time to seek help?
While the occasional tantrum is normal, if your child often acts out by aggressively snapping or violent behaviour that is not fitting the situation, it may be time to seek help.
Warning signs to look out for:
- Excessive aggression. While it’s normal for kids to kick, bite or hit, when you feel fearful or unsafe during a tantrum this may be due to an underlying problem.
- Sel-harm. If your child bangs their heads, scratches, or bites themselves almost every time they have a tantrum, it’s a red flag.
- Frequent tantrums. While tantrums are common, experiencing them daily or more than 10 times a week is cause for concern.
- Very long tantrums regularly may signal a problem. While 5 minutes may seem like a lifetime to any parent, it’s normal. Frequent 25 minutes or longer tantrums are not normal.
- The need for an external factor to calm down post a tantrum. Not being able to calm down without getting something can be concerning.
- When you start to feel like you can’t handle a tantrum and may hurt your child, you need to seek help.
It’s important not to set aside how you feel. It’s ok to acknowledge how their behaviour affects you. Don’t pretend to be ok if you’re not. Be honest and let them know you’re feeling too angry to talk right now.
You are not alone. All parents go through this. But it doesn’t have to get out of control.
Take care of your wellbeing. It’s not selfish at all. You need to be a healthy present adult to be a good parent.
I hope that this will help you get through the tantrums and meltdowns a little bit easier.
And don’t forget, you’re doing a great job!
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