Toddler Tantrums 101
The crying, screaming, kicking or stubborn pout you may occasionally witness from your otherwise mellow child, is actually a normal part of childhood development.
As hard as it may be to believe, this is a way that your toddler expresses his/her emotions and establishes some amount of independence. You’ll find that tantrums will occur mostly during the toddler years 1 to 3, when they are beginning to better learn how to communicate and interact with others.
In order to effectively process your toddler’s tantrums, try to understand what triggered it in the first place. Since they may not be able to express exactly what is wrong with them, look out for signs and cues from them.
In all honesty, there will be times when you can’t even figure out what’s going on in that little head of theirs that’s making them lash out. Sometimes they don’t even know themselves! Just like adults, toddlers sometimes have off days where they don’t feel like themselves, so we just have to be patient with them during these times and help them figure things out.
Possible Reasons for a Tantrum
There are numerous reasons your little one may throw a tantrum:
- Being uncomfortable in a new place
- Needing attention
- A break in routine
- Feeling over-/under-stimulated
- Becoming defensive (in the case of tantrums which occur while interacting with others)
- They are hungry, tired or bored
Of course this is not an exhaustive list of reasons. Only a toddler could write that! However, these are usually the source of tantrums in most cases.
If you have identified any of these as your toddler’s triggers, try to guide them into self-regulating their emotions to a level that they can process things a bit clearer in their minds. For example, children tend to crave routine and if this routine is broken they might have a meltdown.
Perhaps telling them in advance of changes or finding ways to keep aspects of their routine going can work for your child. Over time, you will be more in tune with your child’s emotions and better able to identify and avoid their triggers.
What Not to Do During A Tantrum
Try as best as you can to not make the situation worse, which may be challenging. Let’s face it, when we’re at our wit’s end and we have a screaming toddler not doing what we tell them to do, we sometimes respond in anger and impatience instinctively.
Therefore, we need to also know triggers in order to more effectively parent our children, so that we can be in control of the situation it happens.
So for example, if your trigger is that laugh your toddler always does as he boldly exclaims, “No!” with expectancy in his eyes for you to come after him, decide how you’ll handle it as an adult parent before the situation arises.
Have that no-nonsense game face ready!
What To Do During a Tantrum
The first thing you should do is remain as calm as you possibly can. If you start to yell, then this will only exacerbate the situation.
Remind yourself that this is normal and try to see the situation from your toddler’s perspective. How would you react if someone decided that you had to go along with them to the office again and didn’t even get you an incentive like a candy bar? How would you react if someone took your favorite toy away or turned off your favorite ‘Game of Thrones’ episode?
You have to get inside their heads and on their level to be able to effectively connect with them, especially during their tantrums. While most children begin to learn self-regulation by 12 months, they cannot yet process these complex emotions and don’t yet fully understand social norms.
You know your child better than anyone else, so think about what helps them relax. Is it a song or being cuddled? Bringing them back to a place that they recognize as calm will help them relax. Even something as simple as taking a deep breath can help bring their frustrations right down to a feather.
Once they begin to relax, you can try to get them to share what they’re feeling. By helping them describe and understand their intense feelings, they are better able to express themselves and they feel more validated by you acknowledging their right to have these feelings.
While it may be difficult (or even impossible) to stop your child from having tantrums completely, you’re likely to minimize the chance of future tantrums as they get older.
When Has a Tantrum Gone Too Far
There are instances when it’s best to seek advice from your physician or even a specialist in the field of child behavior regarding your toddler’s tantrums.
If your child continues to throw intense tantrums after the age of 4, then there may be underlying issues. Intense tantrums meaning:
- They hurt themselves severely
- They hurt others severely
- They damage property
If you are also finding it increasingly challenging to handle your toddler during these times, you should also consider help for yourself.
These outbursts can be very overwhelming for parents and you might find yourself lashing out, not wanting to take your child out or simply giving into your child’s demands. A specialist may be better able to guide you.
In wrapping up, tantrums are all part of growing up for a child and learning how to express their emotions.
How you guide your toddler through them can be a truly defining moment for you both. It can be overwhelming at times, but try to remain firm and patient while acknowledging their feelings.
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