Stop Temper Tantrums
Temper tantrums and screaming bouts are an unsettling but natural part of childhood.
The toddler stage is a fast-paced phase of development when little ones are quickly absorbing stimuli from all around them. Language, feelings and experiences come at them at a dizzying speed, and they must process them in their young minds.
Adults often show little patience in allowing toddlers the time to learn about themselves. They want to learn to walk but we scoop them up in our arms to hasten our journey. They see something fascinating but we remove it from reach. We thrust a strange and odorous substance in their mouths while withdrawing their familiar and comforting nippled bottles or breast. In the evening, when all other family members enjoy togetherness, toddlers are left alone in a separate room and expected to go to sleep. No wonder toddlers throw temper tantrums.
Definition of a Temper Tantrum
The definition of a tantrum is a violent demonstration of rage or frustration. A toddler who throws a tantrum screams and flings himself on the floor in a barrage of tears. He wildly thrashes about, unable to listen to reason or to calm himself down until he is physically and emotionally spent.
Reasons for Tantrums
Toddlers are just learning about their independence. They can walk and poke food into their mouths. They have their own likes and dislikes. Unfortunately for them, they still lack key skills that would eliminate the need for a tantrum.
Lack of self control. Toddlers are learning how to control their little bodies. Walking takes focused concentration. Self control, or self restraint, is a skill that developmentally will not take place until a few years down the road. They are unable to understand self control or the need for it.
Lack of understanding their emotions. Toddlers simply react. They don’t realize what an emotion is. They surprise themselves by their upset, anger and frustration. They simply display what they feel.
Frustration. Toddlers feel stymied by their own limitations. They may feel frustrated when they can’t accomplish what they want, such as building a stack of blocks without knocking it over. They may be frustrated that an adult is preventing them from getting another cookie. They don’t understand why a parent is taking them away from a fun place when they want to stay.
Lack of language. Toddlers know what they want to communicate but lack sufficient language to do so. They push and pull adults to show them what they want but when understanding lags, toddlers burst into fits of frustration.
Emotional issues and health problems. Some tantrums come from chemical imbalances in the brain. Some children with developmental disabilities, for example, often have tantrums and anger issues.
As a side note, many adults throw temper tantrums for the same reasons!
How to Deal with a Toddler’s Tantrums
Once you understand that a tantrums are a natural part of a child’s development, you can approach them with calm and reason.
Never get angry back at the child. Your angry emotions will only worsen his tantrum because he will not understand why you’re getting upset with him.
Attempt to distract him with something more appealing. Toddlers have a very short attention span and are easy to distract with a funny face or new activity. Use a happy tone of voice to direct his attention to something else.
Attempt to lessen his frustration by helping him communicate. Use visual cues in addition to language so he will add more words to his vocabulary and increase his ability to communicate. Show him an apple and a banana, for example, and ask, “Do you want an apple or banana?”
Explain and repeat his options clearly and slowly. “Do you want to sit nicely and color a picture OR do you want to sit in your room to settle down?” “Do you want to sit nicely and eat a yummy dinner OR do you want to sit in the car until we’re done?”
Explain why he can’t have or do what he wants but then offer something he CAN have, preferably a choice of two things. “You had a treat already. You can have some grapes or cheese.” “That is Joey’s toy. Do you want your car or your drum?”
In public, don’t allow your child to pitch a fit. It isn’t fair to others and it is showing your child that there is no such thing as polite public behavior. Teach your child that if he wants to behave nicely, he can accompany you on fun outings to the store or other errands. Otherwise, he stays home or with a neighbor. Period. Be sure you make going out in public seem like a very desirable, grown up thing to do.
Make it clear early on that if he throws a temper tantrum, he gets nothing nice. No treats, no rewards, no toys. If he can calm down and ask nicely, you’ll listen and reward him. Small children with little language at least can learn the word ‘please’.
The Risks of Bribing a Child
Every parent has resorted to bribing a child to stop a tantrum but has lived to regret it. Tantrum time is a great learning opportunity for a child and if you bribe him, the lessons are not good.
You’re teaching him to trade good behavior for stuff. He needs to learn that good behavior is expected. It shows respect to parents and teachers. It is courtesy to other people when out in public. Good behavior is not currency to be withheld or traded.
He’ll learn to hold out for better deals. When he sees that you will offer him anything to stop his tantrum, he’ll turn down smaller prizes and hold out for the big stuff. It might seem harmless to trade him a candy bar to stop crying now but as he gets older, he’ll demand toys and electronics.
If you don’t have anything he wants, you have nothing to bargain with during the next temper tantrum.
When the Toddler is Beyond Reasoning
Sometimes, no matter what you do, a toddler is past the point of reasoning and needs to finish out the tantrum. Once in full swing, he simply can’t control himself. The emotional and physical feelings overwhelm his little mind. When that happens, simply wait it out.
Use a safe area of your home, filled with soft pillows and blankets, to let him blow off steam. This is a sort of time-out but is not a punitive matter. He’s not being punished but he is being allowed a quiet place to calm down without any stimulation. Stay nearby to keep him safe.
Don’t show any emotion when he is throwing a tantrum. It isn’t his fault so don’t show disapproval. But it isn’t pleasant so don’t show too much compassion or he will learn to throw tantrums to get your sympathy and attention. Some well-meaning mothers will hug and stroke their children but they’re giving them good reason to throw lots of tantrums! Stay near without giving him any positive or negative feedback. Just wait it out.
Do not hold him tightly or restrict his movements. Some methodology recommends this as a way to keep him from thrashing about but being restrained only adds to his frustration. And if he’s angry at you, he needs space between the two of you.
When he calms down, be sure to give him plenty of positive feedback. “I’m glad you’re ok now. Let’s go back and play with your ball.” “Good job. Let’s go back and finish our dessert.” “Yay! Tyler’s back! Now we can play again!” The subconscious message is that throwing tantrums means time alone while behaving nicely means fun social time.
In public places, take the time to scoop up a tantrum-throwing child and let him act out in the car. Keep the windows rolled down enough for air and coolness and stand outside of the car where you can see him when needed. Turn your back as if to ignore him. When he calms down, turn around to him and with a happy smile, take him out and congratulate him for being able to calm down and re-try his public outing. If he breaks down again, take him back to the car or take him home. Make the message clear: going out requires good behavior. Set down this guideline early. Repetition teaches them even if they are too young to understand words.
Patient is key
Be patient with a tantrum-throwing toddler. This is an important phase of development when parents can set good foundations for proper behavior that will come effortlessly.
If your child continues to throw tantrums as he grows beyond the toddler years, get a developmental check up for possible medical conditions. If all is fine health-wise and your child still throws tantrums, he inadvertently learned that throwing tantrums achieves his goals whether that is a reward of a tangible (toy or food) or intangible (positive or negative attention) sort.
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