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How to use your child’s tantrums as a learning experience

toddler making a tantrum

Key points:

  1. Tantrums are common between ages 2 and 4.
  2. Tantrums are a way for preschoolers to express intense feelings or frustrations.
  3. Help prevent tantrums by addressing hunger, fatigue, and transitions.
  4. Use strategies like distraction, understanding, and safe spaces to handle tantrums.

Because your preschooler’s brain is still developing, it’s normal for your little one to get very excited, frustrated, sad, or angry about something and react accordingly. Since they have limited verbal skills, when they’re having a tantrum, they are actually communicating that they are struggling with an intense feeling or that they 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 them 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 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 child assert their 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 them.
  • When they have calmed down, tell the story of what happened during the tantrum. Emphasize the emotion that arose and why, and remind them of the fact that you stayed there. When they’re ready, give them a big hug and ask them if they feel better.

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