If you are a parent, I imagine that you are familiar with the following phrase: tantrum. Tantrums are very common opportunities for our little ones (and sometimes older ones) to express themselves when words are not available or do not satisfy the feelings that need to be expressed.

A tantrum is an uncontrollable outburst of frustration, anger, tiredness, hunger and other emotions that young children feel but cannot always express with words. Sometimes they are in response to a need for attention or to manipulate a situation. Children sometimes throw things, stomp their feet, bang on things, scream, cry, and even roll on the floor. These occurrences are so common during the early childhood years and are considered a part of development.

Although we often try, there is no avoiding these meltdowns. They will happen when you least expect it. However, if we look at the causes, perhaps we can step in and intervene before the tantrum occurs.

Causes

  • Your child wants something he or she cannot have
  • Your child is transitioning from home to school or school to home
  • Your child is looking for attention
  • Your child is hungry and/or tired
  • Your child is stressed or unhappy about something but cannot communicate exactly what it is or why
  • Your child is confused or overwhelmed about something

Tantrums are a normal, common stage of development, especially during these toddler years. But sometimes these are problematic for parents. Sadly, there does not seem to be enough socially acceptable responses to toddler tantrums, so people around you might react. When our child has a tantrum in public, we might feel embarrassed and our reaction can make the tantrum worse because all we want to do is shut it down. When our children feel our tension or stress, they react to that energy. If they are already in an overreactive state, our negative energy can only worsen it. The less we look at this behavior as uncommon or inappropriate or feel embarrassed, the more we can respond to our child calmly and help them to work through what is a natural occurrence in child development.

Tips to help our children

  • The way we respond to the behavior can have a big impact on the length and size of the tantrum itself.
  • Pause – simply pause before you respond to a child’s meltdown.  Take a breath in and out. Be aware of your emotional state as you breathe. Bring your focus to your feet on the floor; focus on the feeling of being grounded. Then respond to your child. You cannot fix the situation while your child is in the middle of a meltdown, but you can come to the meltdown with compassion.
  • Listen as you remain compassionate. Be present with your child and just listen and be present. Don’t try to fix or bandage it, just calmly be there with your child in his/her time of need. This does not mean give in to the situation; it just means be present to help your child as they move through it.
  • Try to keep the area you are in safe for the child’s meltdown. Make sure there are no objects in the path.
  • This too shall pass. There is no need to bribe or coerce a child at this time or at any time. Just allow them to move through their emotions naturally.
  • Continue to check in with yourself. Are you breathing, remaining calm, and staying present for your child?
  • Accept your child as they are. Once the child is calm, you can start a conversation about the situation to uncover what the issue is. Then, you can offer your child the opportunity to think of other ways they might have been able to share these frustrations with you in a more verbal and calm way.

Ways to try to prevent tantrums

  • Sometimes we can prevent a tantrum. If we really understand our children and the situation they are in, that might allow for prevention and intervention.
  • Prepare your child. Many kids need routines – mornings and evenings. Some children need preparation before an outing. Give them time to settle with where you are going and what you are doing. Children sometimes like to know the plan too.
  • Expect only what your child is capable of.  This is extremely important. Your child is a human being and so being reasonable about their ability and capability is huge.
  • Stick to your boundaries.

This too will pass. As you begin to put these techniques in place, notice what is different in your child, the length of the tantrum and your relationship overall. You will survive the tantrum years.

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