Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Handling Child Tantrums

Temper Tantrums are normal and common in children from about 1 to 4 years old, and sometimes beyond. At this age, children are still learning to manage their feelings. They often do not have the skills necessary to verbally communicate their very strong emotions and they do not yet fully understand them. So, tantrums should be viewed as a child’s way of communicating frustrations, anger, and lack of control, worry or fear.

You might see crying, screaming, kicking, hitting, or breaking things. Sometimes these behaviors seem to come out of nowhere or are triggered by something you, as a parent, think is insignificant. However, if we can identify the cause of the tantrum, it may help in reducing or avoiding them.

Some common causes of tantrums:
  • Being overly tired or hungry
  • Being told no, “No you can’t have a cookie.”
  • Being asked to do something, “It’s time to get ready for bed.”
  • Becoming frustrated because something is not going as planned
  • Feeling anxious, uncertain or afraid of a situation
  • Feeling hurt, insecure or abandoned by separation
  • Feeling misunderstood and powerless
  • Feeling overwhelmed by emotion

Ways to prevent or reduce tantrums:
  • Be aware of hungry and overly tired children. Try to plan outings after naps and meals.
  • Take snacks with you. If the child is too tired, you may need to alter your plans. Better to delay the shopping trip than struggle with an overly tired child.
  • Give choices when you have to say no. “You can’t have a cookie right now, but you can have an apple or some carrots. “
  • Give warnings in advance so the child knows what is going to happen and can prepare for the transition. “In 15 minutes, it will be time to start putting away the toys and get ready for bed.”
  • If your child is easily frustrated, try working together to solve the problem or the issue. Wonder with the child how you might do something and offer support. Show them how to accomplish the task with which they are struggling, if they will let you. Acknowledge the frustration. If something is too frustrating, consider putting it away for now and engaging in something else.
  • Think about the meaning behind the child’s behavior – what is going on for this child that may be taxing them emotionally, making them feel helpless or scared.

What to do during a tantrum:
  • Make sure everyone is safe. Stay close to your child so they know you are there, can hold the emotions for them and keep them safe. Wait it out.
  • Stay calm and talk calmly to the child. Getting angry will only make the situation worse.
  • Acknowledge what is happening and the feelings they are having.
  • Stay quiet — a child cannot fully take in what you are trying to say in the midst of emotional overload. Sometimes it is necessary to just be a quiet, calm presence until the child releases those big feelings.
  • When they calm down, help them explore what happened, how they were feeling, and help them identify ways to manage these feelings in the future. 

Identifying what the child is trying to accomplish or express during the tantrum can be helpful in reducing the intensity and frequency of tantrums. Remember your child’s tantrums are an expression of their very strong feelings. The goal is to help them learn how to manage these feelings and learn coping skills.