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, 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 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 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 their 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 trigger tantrums.
- Frustration and loss of control: If a toddler wants to complete a task above their developmental level or is faced with the will power of an older child or sibling, they 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 them. Also, help your little one manage by naming the feeling and redirecting their attention to something else that they like.
- 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 they are fed and rested, and try to choose environments that prevent tantrums.
- Teach emotional literacy: Even if your little one does not speak yet they are always paying attention. If they have a fit and throw a toy instead of immediately reprimanding them, 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, 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 their 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 them blow off steam, and intervene immediately and calmly if they are 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 them out, but don’t give in if the limit is important for their 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 their 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.
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