Temper tantrums are a part of growing up. As your child moves from babyhood to toddlerhood, she learns at an extraordinary pace. She is literally learning something new every day. Unfortunately, her cognitive and physical skills are often times not in sync. This leads to frustration, which leads to temper tantrums.
Your toddler has tantrums for a number of reasons. Her pants itch. The puzzle piece won't fit. You gave her milk when she wanted juice. Since they are still learning to talk, toddlers have a hard time expressing their needs. It is very frustrating for them to want something and not be able to get it. This, coupled with their limited problem-solving skills, leads to tantrums.
To parents, these emotional outbursts often appear to have no rhyme or reason. Many times, they don't. But sometimes, adult reasoning stands in the way. With good cause. When she takes a flying leap off the stairs, you see broken bones and hospital visits. She sees something else entirely. She sees an opportunity for fun. Fun you are denying her — and that is frustrating.
For most children, temper tantrums ease off with maturity. Once speaking and reasoning skills improve, tantrums are no longer necessary. In the meantime, it is important for parents to establish a consistent way of dealing with them. By doing this, you show your child the importance of clear communication and emotional control.
Dealing with Temper Tantrums
—Cooler Heads Prevail. It is important for parents to remain calm in the midst of a tantrum. It goes without saying: These episodes can be as frustrating for you as they are for your child. But remaining in control of yourself and your emotions sets a positive example. It shows your child that you value calm communication and conflict resolution.
—Think Before You Act. There are many ways to handle temper tantrums. Take a few seconds to evaluate the situation before you decide on action. You may be able to distract your child. Replace a dangerous plaything or activity with a safer one. Remove your child from a room or group to escape over-stimulation and to calm down. Each temper tantrum calls for its own action. Be sure to think it through before you act. This can mean the difference between soothing — and escalating — her frustration.
—Give Her Frustration a Nod. Acknowledge your child's frustration without condoning the tantrum. This validation can have a soothing effect. Let her know that you understand she is upset, but also convey that there is a better way of handling it. Then when she calms down, give her those tools. Show her better ways of expressing her wants and needs.
—The Talk. Do not try to talk or reason with your child when she is in the throes of a tantrum. It does not work. It also increases both your frustration levels. When the tantrum has run its course, discuss her behavior. Use this time to teach her positive ways to handle anger and frustration. Give her phrases to use when asking for help and sharing her emotions. In time, she will begin to express her needs in a manner that is more productive and clear.
—Hold On. An out-of-control child can be a danger to herself or others. If this is the case, calmly take your child into your arms until the tantrum subsides. Speak to her in a soothing voice. Acknowledge her anger and tell her you will hold her until it passes. This approach is often very comforting to children. The fact is, they don't like to be out of control. It scares them. It also makes them feel more secure to know an adult is taking the situation in hand.
—Head Them Off. By studying your child's tantrums, you may identify certain patterns. This can help you avoid some trigger situations. When and where do they occur? What happens directly beforehand? Are specific people present? Use this information to keep tantrums to a minimum. Also, having a routine and reasonable limits helps children know what to expect — so they are less likely to be taken off guard emotionally. In addition, carefully monitor your child's activities. Do not present her with tasks that are above her skill level. This will only lead to frustration, which leads to tantrums.
—Offer Comfort. Tantrums can take a toll on children. Often when it is over, they are not even sure why they were angry in the first place. Offer your child a warm hug and some reassurance. Let them know you disapprove of tantrums, but that you love them.
Dr. Caron B. Goode is the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International (www.acpi.biz), a training and certification program for parent coaches. Dr. Goode is also the founding editor of the website InspiredParenting.net; and the author of 11 books, the most recent of which is 'Help Kids Cope with Stress & Trauma', which includes several chapters on the use of storytelling strategies.