Handle Temper Tantrums

Problem: Temper tantrums are part of normal development. Typically temper tantrums happen between 18 months and 2 1/2 years, with screaming, crying, thrashing and kicking or by shouting, “I want this!” Temper tantrums happen when toddlers become frustrated and don’t have the verbal ability to express themselves or the cognitive maturity to understand why they can’t get what they want at the moment. The good news is that in the scheme of development, this is a short-lived phase, one you can certainly get through, especially with some understanding and a few pointers.

Strategies: If you work at figuring out how to prevent a temper tantrum and how to deal with tantrums when they happen, your preparation will pay off. Try to have reasonable expectations for these ages and keep things simple.

Do try figuring out what causes your child to have a temper tantrum and then fix what you believe to be the source of the tantrum. Ask yourself, Is my child tired? hungry? Getting enough time with me? making enough choices? Having to share too often? Being stopped too often from touching and exploring?

Don’t reason with a toddler. Your child can’t understand adult logic and reasoning, even though your explanations make perfect sense to you. Developmentally, your child is too egocentric to think about your needs and desires and to understand that temper tantrums are embarrassing and disturbing to you.

Do distract often. Always carry stuff in your purse, pockets, the glove compartment, and diaper bag, that you can pull out at any moment to entertain or move your child away from a potential tantrum. As soon as you feel a temper tantrum coming (at home or while out), react quickly by taking out your keys, cell phone, crackers, cookies, juice, a toy, even candy. Point out something of interest, “Look at that silly hat.” “See that bus going by.” Sing a familiar song. Say, “You push the stroller.” “Help me turn the TV on.”

Don’t spank or yell at your toddler during a temper tantrum. Your child may imitate you and hit you or others. Spanking will make the tantrum escalate. Yelling will do the same. Take a deep, slow breath and tell yourself, “I can get through this.” Then calmly, either distract or, if appropriate, make attempts to give in, “You can have a few M&M’s.” “One cookie.” Neither are unreasonable adjustments or responses – even before dinner.

Do understand that “giving in” at times will never damage or spoil your young child. Instead your child will feel a sense of love and care from you. That’s how “giving in” is interpreted by a young child.

Don’t worry about whether your child will take advantage or remember that you gave in; your child reacts differently to each new moment and experience.

Do pay attention to your child’s interests. Allow your child to touch, look at, and explore things of interest, even if only for a few minutes. Under your supervision, allow your child to use the computer, take some food out of the refrigerator, pour the dog food into the bowl, water the plants, turn the light switch on, look around the hardware store, touch hanging belts in a store. Your child will feel a sense of satisfaction and have less tantrums.

Don’t get discouraged. At times, you may have to leave a store or restaurant with your upset chid. Take a brief walk and see if a change of scenery is calming. Otherwise, simply go home, and prepare for a fresh start. Keep reminding yourself that occasional temper tantrums are a normal part of the toddler and early preschool years.

Bottom Line: The way you handle temper tantrums will impact your child’s ability to deal with frustration. Learning to deal with tantrums in a patient, reasonable manner that is respectful to your child’s development, interests, and temperament, is good practice and can pave the way to smoother parenting and a happier, calmer child.

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