Lets talk about what most parents really dread – terrible toddler temper tantrums! As most of us have witnessed, it can involve an unexpected, seemingly uncontrollable explosion of anger, frustration, and disorganized behavior. You might see crying, screaming, stiffening limbs, kicking, falling down, flailing about, or running away. For most toddlers, tantrums are a way to express frustration, anger, or anxiety. For older children, tantrums might be a learned behavior. If rewarded or accepted, tantrums are likely to continue into adulthood, just adapting with age. The science behind toddler temper tantrums lie in the lack of children’s developed social and emotional skills. Children often don’t have the words to express big emotions, direct and manage feelings, and comprehend or alter their environment.
While there might not be a guaranteed way to prevent tantrums, there’s plenty you can do to encourage good behavior, even in the youngest children. Most seasoned moms try to avoid situations that may trigger toddler tantrums by understanding emotional triggers, such as;
- Stress, hunger, tiredness, and overstimulation – take it from an experienced mom. These triggers can make it harder for children to express and manage their feelings and behavior.
- Situations that children just can’t cope with – for example, a toddler might have trouble dealing with a situation when an older child snatches away a toy.
- Strong emotions – worry, fear, shame and anger can be overwhelming and confusing for children.
- The childs own temperament – this influences how quickly and strongly children react to things like frustrating events. Children who get upset easily might be more likely to have tantrums.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to make these outbursts less likely to happen!
- Reduce the childs stress (yes, that is a real thing). Tired, hungry and overstimulated children are more likely to exhibit tantrums.
- Tune into your childs feelings. If you’re aware of your childs feelings, you might be able to sense when big emotions are on the way and help your child manage difficult moods. You might also be able to distract your child.
- Identify tantrum triggers. For example, your child might have tantrums when you’re shopping. You might be able to plan ahead or change the environment that is conducive to tantrums. For example, it might help to go shopping after your child has had a nap and a snack.
- Talk about emotions with your child by encouraging them to use words. When your child struggles with a difficult feeling, encourage him to name the feeling and what caused it.
- Stay calm (or pretend to!). If you need to speak at all, keep your voice calm and level, and act deliberately and slowly. An upset parent almost always leads to an upset child.
- Be consistent and calm in your approach by setting reasonable limits and following them consistently.
- At all ages, children are able to understand that their actions have effects or consequences. This means that you can sometimes use consequences to manage your childs behaviour.
The most important thing to do is to make sure you don’t accidentally reward tantrums. For example, if your child has a tantrum because you say no to buying them a lolly, but immediately calm down once you have provided them with one, you have rewarded the tantrum. Pleading or bargaining with your child when they have tantrums can also be seen as a reward, because it gives your child attention.
Ultimately, what every parent needs to accept is that they can’t control their childs emotions or behaviour directly. They can only keep their child safe and guide the childs behaviour, so that tantrums are less likely to happen in the future. Praise good behavior by offering them extra attention when they behave well. If other people give you dirty looks, ignore them. They’ve either never had children or it’s been so long since they had a young child that they’ve forgotten what it’s like!