Understanding and managing temper tantrums

Published by Baby Bunting on Monday, January 28, 2019

Tantrums, especially public ones, are the a fear of many parents. They can be frustrating to deal with and have brought many a parents close to a meltdown themselves. But understanding a temper tantrum can help you deal with them more effectively, and ultimately help your toddler become a more resilient child.

What are tantrums?

Tantrums are how young children deal with difficult feelings and are very common in the ages of one to three. This is because kids’ social and emotional skills are only just starting to develop. Toddlers don’t often have the words to express the big, confusing emotions that they’re experiencing, or what they want, which understandably results in confusion and frustration.

Child development experts have identified two types of tantrums; distress and control-based. Distress tantrums will be triggered when a child feels alone, is hungry, hurt or tired, whereas a control-based tantrum will occur when a child is attempting to get what they want by expressing anger. A distress tantrum will usually involve real tears, while a child throwing a control tantrum won’t typically shed any.

Your tantrum strategy depends on correctly identifying the types of tantrum and mitigating the factors that can trigger them.

Common tantrum triggers

  • Temperament – children who get upset more easily, or are quick to anger, are more likely to have tantrums.
  • Stress, hunger, tiredness, overstimulation – these situations make it more difficult for a child to express and manage what they are feeling.
  • Situations beyond a child’s coping skills – for instance, a toddler may have trouble coping with seeing you leave for work and not understanding where you’re going, or seeing you care for another child.
  • Strong emotions – worry, fear, shame and anger are emotions that young children can find overwhelming.

How to prevent tantrums

Here are some simple ways you can prevent a tantrum from happening:

  • Reduce stress to prevent overstimulation.
  • Tune in to your child’s feelings, so you know when big emotions are on the way.
  • Prepare for triggers such as grocery shopping. For instance, when you know you’re about to go shopping make sure your child has eaten and napped first.
  • Talk about emotions with your child so they can start articulating what they feel. Good questions to ask include: what are you feeling? What made you feel like this?

How to manage tantrums

However, despite your best-laid plans, tantrums can and will just happen. Here is what you can do when your child is going into full blown melt-down:

  • Stay calm (or at least give the appearance of it); getting angry will only make it harder for you and your little one.
  • Acknowledge the difficulties your child is feeling; this will prevent their behaviour getting more out of control and help them to reset and acknowledge the situation.
  • Wait out the tantrum; don’t try to reason with or distract your child. Once a tantrum has started it has to be weathered; just make sure you stay close so they don’t get stressed.
  • Take charge when you need to; if your child is having a control-based tantrum do not give them what they want. This will only reinforce the bad behaviour.
  • Be consistent in your approach; if you occasionally cave in and give your child what they want, and other times don’t, this could make the issue worse in the long term.
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