Tantrums are sudden outburst of childish rage or temper. They involve intense emotions like that of anger, loss, frustration, and disappointment which can result in a child crying loudly, throwing things, biting, kicking, or head banging. Interestingly, they are quite common among children of 1-4 years of age, and almost every child goes through them. Tantrums are actually a child’s way of dealing with an unpleasant or frustrating situation. Temper tantrums in toddlers are often a result of frustration. Since a child of 2-3 years has limited vocabulary to express how he or she is exactly feeling and often have difficulty in finding a solution to a problem that he or she encounters; this leads to a feeling of frustration and anger and is often expressed in the form of tantrums. No matter how common tantrums are, they can pose a huge challenge for parents and often cause great distress to them. However, if dealt properly tantrums can very well be prevented and managed when they happen. Knowing the reason behind your child’s tantrums can help you prevent the sudden outbursts. Some kids are naturally more prone to temper tantrums due to temperamental issues; they are more sensitive and get easily upset; also, stress, hunger, and tiredness can also lead the kids to throw tantrums. Additionally, sometimes kids find themselves in situations that are beyond their coping levels, situations that can be emotionally overwhelming. Here are a few ways to deal with and manage your child’s tantrums:
- Stay calm: It may be easier said than done, to remain calm when you find yourself in the middle of your child’s emotional outburst—when he or she start crying loudly, kicking, biting, throwing things at you. You are bound to react, but the key to managing tantrums, being a parent, is remaining as calm as possible. Reacting with an angry outburst will only make the situation worse. Speak slowly in a calm composed manner. As a thumb rule, if you see your child yelling or crying loudly, speak as softly and in a voice as low as possible. Do not try to reason with child as it is very late once a tantrum has started.
- Acknowledge the emotions: Very small children throwing tantrum mostly don’t know how to express their emotions and they don’t even know how to label each and every emotion they go through. When your children throw a tantrum help them acknowledge their emotions. If you see that your child is throwing tantrum as a way to express anger, tell him or her, “I know you are angry or upset.”
- Allow them to choose: Most of the time a toddler throws a tantrum over things that involve a sense of control. In situations where your child wants to assert his or her own choice especially over issues such as what to eat or wear, it is better to allow your child a little bit of control. Let your child decide what he or she wants to eat or wear or which toy he or she wants to bring along. Give them a chance to decide by giving them two or more options. Don’t make a big deal out of your child’s choice of a weird food combination or if he or she decides to wear some bizarre clothing.
- Appreciate good behavior: Find instances when your child behaves in a calm manner in a situation that would have normally caused a tantrum and praise your child effusively—give a pat on their back or hug. Tell him or her “you did wonderful!” This will help your child understand the behavior that is appreciated.
- Maintain a routine: It is important to follow a routine. Sudden change in activity sometimes makes children upset and restless. Play-time, lunch/dinner-time, sleep, everything should follow a routine. If you are about to introduce a change in the routine activity or schedule, let your child know five to ten minutes in advance. Say for example, your child is playing, and suddenly you realize that you have guests coming in half an hour, tell your child that he/she has five minutes of more play-time left today as you are expecting guests. Also ensure, especially in case the child is a toddler, that he or she is getting appropriate rest and sleep and is well fed. Sometimes hunger, fatigue, and sleeplessness may make little kids irritable and ultimately trigger a tantrum.
- Be consistent with rules: You need to establish some rules early on and follow them consistently. Rules work as a guide to what behavior is accepted and what is not.
- Build emotional vocabulary: Toddlers often have limited vocabulary especially when it comes to communicating their feelings. Help them learn emotional vocabulary by finding situations where you label their emotions. You can even engage in role-play of emotions with your child to build his or her emotional vocabulary.
- Whether to ignore or not: While many suggest that ignoring a tantrum will stop it. But this is a tricky matter. Imagine you are upset or feeling low and everyone around you starts ignoring you, how would you feel. Same is the case with children. A tantrum, as we know, is an emotional outburst. Suppose your child is upset because his or her sibling took away his or her favorite toy, and you, instead of addressing the issue, ignore his or her displeasure—imagine how frustrating it can be for the child. In a long run, this tactic of ignoring will not only be futile but is also going to set up a bad example as far as the child’s responsiveness to other’s plight is concerned. Your child will learn that whenever people are upset it is better to ignore them. Or, if you feel upset don’t reach out to the loved ones as they are going to ignore you. Thus, when your child throws a tantrum, it is better to go to your child, give him/her a hug and acknowledge his or her feelings.
In cases when you are not able to reach out to your child right away, wait till your child calms down and then hug the child and tell him/her that you were aware of their emotional outburst and now that they are calm, you can help them or comfort them. Most importantly, if you do feel that, in a certain situation, responding to your child’s tantrum will only encourage the child for worse, make sure, while ignoring the tantrum, that your child is safe and well within your visibility so that you can observe his or her reaction.