Tantrums are extremely common in toddlers and preschoolers. They’re how young children deal with difficult feelings. It’s important to tune in to your child’s emotions to avoid situations that trigger those tantrums.
You don’t need to have a child to know the word tantrum. It is so notorious that everyone has either seen one or experienced it first-hand.
Tantrums are completely normal and expected in toddlers and preschoolers ages 1-3. They are an outlet for children to deal with big or difficult feelings. During this stage of development, toddlers are beginning to develop their independence but are still dependent on adults. They also don’t have the adequate skills or brain development to self-regulate just yet. To make matters even worse, children this age don’t have the appropriate language yet to voice their emotions, so expressing themselves via physical actions is their way to cope.
Tantrums can vary in type and intensity. They might involve crying, screaming, kicking, headbanging, back arching, falling to the floor or even breath holding. People making a tantrum are of the said to have ‘lost it’, and this situation is not exclusive for toddlers; older children and even adults can experience a tantrum when they feel overwhelmed by their emotions and can’t manage or don’t have the adequate skills to self-regulate.
What are the possible causes of a tantrum:
Temperament: Your child’s tolerance for frustration can influence his or her reaction. A kid who gets easily upset may be quicker to react and have more tantrums
Hunger, tiredness and overstimulation: These sensations are difficult to decipher for children. Ever heard the phrase hangry? Body needs have a great impact on our behavior and not noticing them can be triggers for tantrums.
Frustration and loss of control: If a toddler wants to complete a task above his or her developmental level or is faced with the will power of an older child or sibling, he or she might cope with a tantrum.
Big emotions: Emotions such as anger, shame and worry can be overwhelming for children.
Dealing with my child’s tantrums:
It is important to note that tantrums are a normal part of growing up, but there are things you can do as a parent to make them less likely to occur.
Have a routine: If you make sure your little one is fed and rested you can reduce tantrums due to physical needs.
Tune in: Become aware of your child’s feelings. Put yourself in your little one’s shoes and try to imagine what it must be like for him or her. Also, help your little one manage by naming the feeling and redirecting his or her attention to something else that he or she likes.
Know your little one’s triggers: If your little one always has a tantrum during an outing try to plan ahead with appropriate toys, make sure he or she is fed and rested, and try to choose environments that prevent tantrums.
Teach emotional literacy: Even if your little one does not speak yet he or she is always paying attention. If he or she has a fit and throws a toy instead of immediately reprimanding him or her, name the action and emotion that goes along with it. For example, “You threw the toy because you got frustrated. I understand it is hard, let me help you out so you don’t have to feel that way”.
Provide adequate toys and activities: Create a play-friendly space with toys that engage your toddler but are not way above his or her level of development because trying to complete them only causes frustration.
We know it is tough to watch your little one deal with a whirlwind of emotions. Be sure to care for yourself too. Here are some tips that can help you deal with these difficult situations:
Remember that your child’s brain is still developing and the prefrontal lobe responsible for self-regulation is not mature yet.
Take a moment to breathe, stay present and remain calm. Creating space between your child’s reaction and yours can help you regulate your response.
Acknowledge your child’s difficult feelings and your own too. Compassion and self-compassion are key!
Don’t try to reason or correct your child during the tantrum, let him or her blow off steam and intervene immediately and calmly if he or she is at risk of getting hurt or hurting someone else. It is important that your child understands that big feelings are not to be feared.
Be firm, kind and consistent. If you need to hold a limit don’t budge, empathize with your child, be unconditionally accepting and hear him or her out, but don’t give in if the limit is important to his or her wellbeing. Being consistent helps your child feel safe and learn the limits.
Finally, be sure to model self-regulation but ask for help too. If we ‘lose it’ too, we model this behavior to our children. But since we are only human, it is important that we also take a break, ask for help and repair when we make mistakes.
Teaching your child appropriate ways of behavior is essential to his or her development, but be sure to connect before you correct. Positive parenting experts agree that a strong connection between parent and child is the best way to teach and guide children towards the best versions of themselves.
“Imagine if the hugs, lullabies and smiles from parents could inoculate babies against heartbreak, adolescent angst, and even help them pass their exams decades later.” (Winston & Chicot, 2016).
During the first three years of life, your baby will develop 90% of his or her adult brain size. This rapid growth accounts for 700–1000 synapse connections being formed each second. The experiences your baby is subjected to, whether positive or negative, are crucial to this early wiring and pruning that enables millions and millions of new connections to be formed. The importance of connecting with your baby can go a long way in ensuring his or her secure attachment to others, resilience, self-esteem, building of relationships and overall development.
Your toddler has been insisting on seeing the latest movie that just came out, and even though you know how much your kid loves those characters, you wonder if he or she is old enough to sit through an entire movie at the cinema. Maybe you’re wondering if attending a theatrical play or a live show will be simply too much and too soon. Our in-house experts share some insight about this decision.
Most child psychologists and parents agree that somewhere between 2 and 4 years old is a good time to introduce your little one to the cinema or the theater, accorded that the film or show in question is age-appropriate for your child. Nonetheless, how cinema-ready a kid might be will ultimately depend on his or her individual characteristics at the time. So as always, it’s important to neither rush, nor pressure your kid into it just because you’ve heard of other 2-years old that actually look forward to staying put in a seat for 120 minutes. It might hold true for some kids, and not so much for others.
To help you weight discern, here are some aspects to take into consideration:
Your son or daughter’s capacity to sit still for longer than 30 min at a time and be happy about it.
Your kid’s usual attention span.
Your kid’s tolerance for noise, dark places or loud sounds- it can be an overwhelming experience for some kids that aren’t used to or aren’t interested in such activities.
According to Brenda Nixon in The Birth to Five Book: “Any noise that registers 90 decibels or higher can hurt a child’s hearing”, and some movies can measure up to 130 decibels.
How to make it a good experience for everyone (not only for you and your kid, but for other kids and adults sharing the space):
Always choose child-friendly shows. There’s a better chance a matinee or kid’s show will be a positive experience than a weekend-night opera or ballet-presentation. Your child and the rest of the audience will be far happier if you arrange for a sitter while you go ahead and watch that drama movie with your partner.
Knowledge is power. Even if the movie or show’s intended audience is children, make sure to know the content of it beforehand, so you can have an idea of what to expect (flashy lights, action scenes, loud music, etc.) and compare those features with what you know your kid can tolerate and enjoy.
Communicate that cinemas and theaters are quiet places. This might be a tricky concept for some toddlers, but the key here is being both understanding and disciplined about it with your kid. It’s important to help him or her understand that there are places where you can have lots of fun if you listen and watch, and that they can of course laugh and ask you things but using a quiet voice so that other people can still hear the show.
Try to find a sitting place near the exit, and not too close to the screen. This way, it will be less complicated to exit suddenly or to make an unexpected restroom break with your kid.
Every child is inevitably going to go through a learning curve regarding sharing social spaces with other people. Activities like going out for a movie or play are good and fun opportunities to help your kid work at being increasingly more masterful of his or her impulses, delaying gratification, and thinking about what other others might be feeling. Although it might appear like a small feat, conquering small outings like this can help your little one develop his or her socio-affective abilities!
Having difficulties for sharing is part of every kid’s developmental process. In fact, the word “mine” is one of the firsts words to come out of a toddler’s mouth. During your kid’s second and third year, he will experience going from oneness to separateness, so you’ll start noticing comments like “This is mine!”, “I can do it myself”, etc. This is due to his growing awareness. So, don’t worry, there are a lot of ways you can help your child understand the concept of sharing. Keep reading to learn more!
Sharing is caring?
Sharing is a fundamental skill; it is how we keep our friendships, play and work well with others. This action teaches about compromise, fairness and, most importantly, gratitude. “Thank you for sharing your truck with me. Do you want to play with my teddy bear?”. Sharing teaches children that gratitude reciprocates. If we give to others, we will receive in return. Gratitude is the best policy. Sharing also teaches us about negotiation and coping with disappointment, two vital skills in life. Continue reading →
We all do it on a daily basis –we accidentally reinforce behaviors that we don’t like. The good news is that it is not too late to do something about it! With our little ones, especially those under 5 years of age, actions really do speak louder than words. Your child will respond to what you do 1000 times more than what you say (*see graphic above). So yes, you may say “we don’t throw”, but those words mean nothing if your actions don’t correspond. If your child’s unwanted behavior was effective in getting his or her needs met, then it will continue. So, in the example above, instead of throwing the bowl to get more food, he or she should pass you the bowl, say “more” or point to the wanted food, for example. We should not refill the bowl, until the child imitates the new, positive behavior that we model.
Because your preschooler’s brain is still developing, it’s normal for your daughter to get very excited, frustrated, sad or angry about something and react accordingly. Since she has limited verbal skills, when she has a tantrum, she is actually communicating that she is struggling with an intense feeling and can’t solve a problem that seems unsurmountable. Yet, although tantrums are normal between 2 and 4 years of age, many of them are avoidable. Since, more than one are bound to happen anyway, use them as a way to better understand your child and let her know that you understand and are trying to help.
• Be a calm and reassuring model of how to handle emotions.
• Think ahead. Most kids are tantrum-prone if they become very tired or hungry. Having clear feeding schedules, rests and quiet times, you can avoid the feared release of the Hangry-Child.
• Give your child some minutes of warning before you end or change an activity since many children are prone to tantrums when play-time is over.
• Acknowledge emotions as they appear, and put them into words to avoid them escalating into actions.
• Psychologists from the extension Department of Human Development and Family Studies from Iowa State University recommend to “distract, remove, ignore, and hold”.
• Try to understand the reason behind the meltdown: when, what, where, who…
• Let your daughter assert her selfhood when it doesn’t compromise anyone’s safety or health.
• Hold your ground but stay calm and reassuring. Create a safe space where your child can explore relationships and emotions while resting assured you still love her.
• When she has calmed down, tell the story of what happened during the tantrum. Emphasize on the emotion that arose and why, and remind her of the fact that you stayed there. When she’s ready give her a big hug and ask her if she feels better.
You can read more practical tips by family therapists from Iowa State University by following this link: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1529J.pdf
With your child’s newfound emotional, verbal and motor control skills, you’re probably thinking about transitioning from the crib and into a bed.
Here are some useful recommendations from the book What to expect: the toddler years. The authors recommend making the transition after 36 months of age, not earlier, because at this age your son is just starting to understand the more abstract concepts of rules and limits. A indicator for making the change is when your child starts suggesting it.
• When your little one is ready, celebrate the transition.
• Try to position the bed in the same place where the crib used to be.
• Pediatricians recommend that bedtime should be timed about 12 hours after your child wakes up, or about 5 hours after his nap ended.
• Make a fun bedtime routine and talk about it with your toddler. Give him a couple of choices, like choosing whether he should put on pajamas or brush his teeth first.
• Make bedtime a bonding moment in which your son can feel safe and loved.
• Provide him with his blanket, stuffed animals or other comfort items from his crib.
• If your child gets out of bed during the night, hold your ground and return him to bed in a silent and yet consistent manner. It might take some time, but he will get the message.
• Avoid reinforcing last-minutes excuses not to sleep.
• Show him empathy and patience while adjusting to this change.
For about a decade, professor in psychology at the University of Queensland, Matthew Sanders, has been researching positive parenting. He has also focused on the effects it has in the relationship between child and parents, how it enhances the caregivers’ skills and confidence, and how it aids children develop good emotional skills from toddlerhood and well into adult life.
We drew some ideas from his 2008 paper “The Triple P: Positive Parenting Program as a public health approach to strengthening parenting” published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Here are some tips on how to foster your child’s emotional development, survive the terrible-twos and actually enjoy this age:
• Make time every day for talking with your child. Give her our undivided attention.
• Be interested in your daughter’s likes, interests, quirks and development. This might seem intuitive, but plenty of research has shown that being interested and attuned with your child is far more beneficial for her socio-emotional development than trying to be a perfect parent.
• Have reasonable expectations according to her development and age.
• Recognize effort and praise improvements.
• Be aware that children are very attuned to their parent’s non-verbal communication. Try to model coherence between what you say and what you do.
• Use incidental teaching. For example, if your daughter is having pieces of string cheese and crackers for lunch, ask about shapes and colors to prompt learning.
• Hold logical consequences for bad behavior. For example, remove troublesome objects from your child’s view and try to talk with her about what happened.
• Recognize emotions and help her translate them into words.
Toddlers and preschoolers can be a handful! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, between 24 and 48 months of age your son is achieving lots of social and emotional milestones. With his newfound physical strength and skills, your little one will start actively exploring his environment, his personality and your limits. This period of time is a crucial for his development, but it can also prove challenging for a parent. At this early age, curiosity is accompanied by impulsivity and risky behaviors, determination comes along stubbornness, and independence can quickly shift into defiance.
Because toddlers can difficult, developmental psychologists have devoted a lot of research into how certain techniques or parenting skills can promote a happy and healthy relationship between moms, dads and their children. In 2005, researchers Liliana Lengua and Erica Kovacs from the University of Washington found that when parents used positive parenting tools with their preschoolers, over the course of one year this was associated with a decrease in irritability, defiance, fearfulness and rejection, and was correlated with an increase in both the child’s positive emotions and the caregiver’s acceptance and consistency.
According David Kerr, professor of psychology at Oregon State University, using positive parenting will not only make your life easier, but will also help your son’s social and emotional skills throughout his life. So, here are some ideas on how you can use positive parenting while enjoying your child’s preschool years:
• Encourage him to express his emotions and accept them instead of acting out.
• Give choices instead of commands. Because your kid is just starting to state independence and autonomy, this can help you avoid a power struggle, or a sharp “no” on your child’s part. It is important to give him options you are okay with.
• Say “no” from time to time, but really mean it when you do. Keep the limits reasonable and consistent.
• Try to create an environment that’s both safe and open for exploration. Child-proofing requires some work and investment, but this will greatly reduce the stress of constantly prohibiting dangerous activities.
• Give positive attention to good behavior, recognize progress and praise success.
• Be interested in understanding the reason behind the acting out of your son before jumping to conclusions.
Twenty-five years ago, Doctor in Education Jane Nelsen published her book Positive Discipline and proposed that the key to teaching discipline to children is not punishment, but mutual respect. Today, her “firm and kind” approach to raising responsible, respectful and resourceful children is regarded as the golden guideline and is advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PBS Parents, The Royal College of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other institutions and organizations.
Based on the book, here are some practical tips on how to implement positive discipline with your children and encourage their social and emotional intelligence:
• Understand the challenges your preschooler is facing at this moment of development. Controlling and expressing emotions are skills that are most likely just starting to develop.
• Try to connect to what your son is trying to express and encourage and help him to put the emotion into words. Recognize and sympathize with what he is feeling.
• Give praise and attention to positive behaviors and attitudes.
• Be available for your child, engage in active listening, even if it’s hard because of either the emotional distress of your kid or his limited vocabulary.
• Remember that your son is doing the best he can with the tools and capacities at hand. Help him control “bad” behaviors by figuring out the reasons behind them and then either change the cause or heal the emotions associated to them.
• Have age-appropriate expectations and be consistent with them. Explaining rules and how to obey them is essential.
• Make time for your well-being is crucial. It might take some planning, but it might also make things easier for everyone.
If you want to dive into positive discipline and how to do it, you can find plenty of handouts by clicking on this link: