What is a tantrum?
A tantrum is an outburst of anger when a young child gets so upset and out of control that it is difficult to calm him down. It is an expression of the child’s frustration with the challenges of the moment.
Why do tantrums happen?
A toddler struggles with the issues of autonomy and control but at the same time is still dependent on adults for his care. He wants to do things all by himself but is not always able to. Thus, he becomes frustrated. Tantrums happen because a child is frustrated when he cannot figure something out, has problems completing a specific task, or does not get something he wants. Often times, a tantrum happens because a child does not have the vocabulary or cannot find the words to express his feelings. A tantrum is more likely to occur when the child is tired, hungry, thirsty, or not feeling well because his threshold for frustration is usually lower.
What is the best way to respond?
Tantrums are not planned and the child’s objective is not to embarrass or frustrate his parents or caregivers. A toddler simply needs to express his turbulent feelings. An older child may learn to throw a tantrum to get what he wants. Educators refer to this as “learned behavior”. You should never reward your child with something he wants or allow him to get out of doing something if he is throwing a tantrum. The tantrums are likely to continue if you give in to the child.
Typically, the best way to respond to a tantrum is to stay calm, in control and acknowledge the child’s feelings. He needs to know that you are there for him and will help him gain control. You may have to pick him up screaming and crying but be sure to keep calm. Tell him that you see he is upset or angry and you are sorry that he is so upset, but do not give in to his wishes if his tantrum is in response to a command from you. Stay close and allow him to have his tantrum. Let him know that you are there for him. He will eventually calm down and you can offer him a hug.
If your child is hitting or kicking someone, hold him until he calms down. Your actions and the tone of your voice will communicate that you are in command and you care about him.
Can tantrums be prevented?
Even though tantrums are part of a toddler’s life, there are some strategies that may help minimalize the frequency of them. You might try the following:
* Try distracting the child if you sense a tantrum is coming.
* Establish a daily routine and stick to it as much as possible so that your child knows what to expect.
* Run errands when your child isn't likely to be hungry or tired. If you're expecting to wait in line, pack a small toy or snack to occupy your child.
* Encourage your child to use words. Young children understand many more words than they're able to express. If your child isn't yet speaking — or speaking clearly — teach him or her sign language for words such as "I want," "more," "drink," "hurt" and "tired." As your child gets older, help him put feelings into words.
* Avoid saying "no" to everything. To give your toddler a sense of control, let him make choices. "Would you like pears or peaches?” “Do you want to wear this one or that one?”
* Recognize your toddler’s accomplishments by celebrating with them. “I see you did that all by yourself!”
* Avoid situations likely to trigger tantrums. Don't give your child toys that are far too advanced for him. If your child begs for specific things when you shop, try to steer clear of areas with these temptations. If your toddler acts up in restaurants, choose places that offer quick service or eat at home.
Most children do grow out of the need to tantrum when they have more language skills and a better understanding of their world. The way we deal with tantrums in the toddler years is important. If we handle children harshly, or continually ignore a child’s feelings and need for comfort, their tantrums may well carry on for a much longer period of time. It is truly important to always remember that a toddler who tantrums is only trying to communicate a need – tantrums are only brief interruptions of peace. Remember to always offer your toddler a hug after a tantrum!