Temper Tantrums

Managing temper tantrums is a dreaded right of passage for all young parents with toddlers. Tantrums are inappropriate behaviors–crying, screaming, aggression towards others or even self–that a child may employ to express anger, frustration, sadness, or disappointment. They most commonly occur from 18 months-3 years(hence “the terrible 2’s “) although they can extend even to school age children ( truthfully, most of us still know a grown up or two who seem stuck in this stage!). They actual come about because of your toddler’s normal development as aspirations to control surroundings butts up against physical, intellectual, developemental, or emotional limits causing a failure to attain the desired result. So it certainly is “normal.”

Some risk factors–physical distress (tired, hungry, ill), emotional stress (new sibling,nursery school, ongoing/more severe parental illness or discord), disruptions of routine (eg. vacations). Hearing or speech delayed/impaired children can have more severe tantrums due to frustations caused by inability to understand or be understood.

Some (hopefully) helpful hints:

  • Adequate rest/meals-all of us are more prone to increased emotionalism when fatigued or hungry.
  • Be prepared-lots of tempers occur at predictable times eg. “stop your game and come to dinner.” Make sure you end that game before dinner, employ a “transition activity” eg. help with setting the table followed by a reward and promise to play the game after dinner together.
  • Patience- it’s best to ignore the behavior whenever possible and you can usually let it burn itself out. Calmly tell your child “we can talk about it when you calm down.”
  • Plan ahead–there are times/places when a tantrum cannot be ignored. Thinking ahead usually enables you to avoid them. For example if your toddler frequently has tantrums in the supermarket aisle, you need to try and arrange your schedule so you can food shop while another caregiver watches your child at home, bypassing the situation entirely.
  • DO NOT GIVE IN–In a perfect world( it’s not a “perfect world”) you never argue with a toddler. If you cannot win don’t have an argument and create a tantrum. For example you simply cannot force your child to eat so don’t have that argument. But your child cannot force you to give her dessert, so if she doesn’t eat her meal don’t argue there either even if she has a tantrum. No meal, no dessert-period.
  • Stick to routines–Children like routines. Explain to older toddlers beforehand what is happening, what is expected, and the rewards for cooperation. Be sure and follow through promptly with the positive reinforcement. This can head off lots of tantrums before they start.

Contact me for tantrums going past age 4, if they are prolonged (despite “ignoring them”), if they result in breatholding or violence causing injury. These are usually still of little consequence, but they should be discussed.

Please send along questions or comments and thanks for following.

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