Forget about the birth control pill, the best form of contraception is a child in the middle of a temper tantrum. Crying, yelling, kicking, knocking cans off a grocery store shelf, parents know the routine well. They’re a common occurrence of growing up, especially, it seems, when you’re in public.
Why do kids have tantrums?
Why do kids have tantrums? Take your pick. They’re tired. They’re hungry. Their sock feels funny. A bird looked at them strangely. They didn’t get to eat Jolly Ranchers for breakfast. The main reason, however, is that kids have tantrums because they’re kids – it’s a normal, expected part of childhood. They’re most common between the ages of 1 and 3 and serve as a way for children to show their pain, express their frustration, and voice their anger.
Tantrums aren’t always avoidable – until kids learn how to regulate and use their words in a productive manner, tantrums may happen. But there are ways to minimize how often they happen (or to what degree).
Here are some proven tips on how to deal with toddler temper tantrums:
1. Give your child positive attention:
Most kids respond to positive reinforcement more enthusiastically than they respond to anything that’s negative. Shower your kids with praise and attention when they’re being good and refrain from rewarding them when they’re bad. Giving in to a tantrum reinforces the behavior and tells the child “to get what you want, scream inside the middle of Sears.”
2. Provide a taste of control:
Oftentimes, kids throw tantrums because they don’t have control. So, give it to them. You don’t need to give your three-year-old unlimited access to your checking account, but allow them control over little things. Letting them choose between wearing a red jacket or a blue jacket? Just think of all the power they’ll have!
3. Don’t tempt them with what they can’t have:
If there are certain objects you don’t want your child to have – your grandmother’s crystal collection or a case of soda pop – keep it where they can’t see it. Out of sight is out of mind…and peace of mind for you.
4. Name it to tame it:
Teaching children to express their emotions in a healthy manner means teaching them to identify those emotions and learn why they react the way they do. Rather than throwing the raisin cookie across the room because it’s not chocolate chip, encourage children to name their disappointment. You probably shouldn’t expect them to have a ton of insight (“Mother, I am very let down by your decision to put fruit into this dessert.”) but help them through questioning. Asking “Did you throw your cookie because you were upset that it didn’t taste good?” is a smart start. You might also ask them to suggest a few ways they could have reacted differently.
5. Offer empathy:
No matter how old a person is, from toddlers to seniors, they want to be heard. Offering empathy tells them that they are. A little goes a long, long way. Telling your child, “I know you’re upset because you didn’t get your way and I get upset when I don’t get my way too” calms your child down and tells them that Mom and Dad get it. Mom and Dad are cool!
6. Distract your child:
Toddlers usually throw tantrums because they’re focused on something – a toy they want or the giant piece of cake they believe makes a fine dinner. Distracting them with something else is a good way to shift their focus and make them forget why they were upset in the first place.
7. Don’t tempt fate:
There are certain times when kids are more prone to tantrums. Being tired usually makes them the most susceptible. Is it the best idea to take your weary two-year-old to the mall so you can try on the latest fall fashions? Probably not.
8. Be flexible:
If parenthood came with a motto, it would be “Pick your battles” (or, perhaps, “pass the wine”). If your child wants something badly enough and you know that refusing will result in a meltdown, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Picking your battles helps assure that you win them.
9. Seek medical help:
If the tantrums seem extreme (or are getting worse), seeking a medical opinion is a good idea (if, anything, to quiet concerns you might have). Talk to a professional if your child is constantly disagreeable, the tantrums are intense, your child hurts themselves during the tantrums, or you feel out of control as well.
10. Other things you can do:
There are other ways to handle tantrums, little things you can employ to help you weather the storm. First of all, stay calm yourself: children learn from observation and if you’re acting out, your child will too. Handle different tantrums differently as well – sometimes the child needs a hug, sometimes they need one of the above tactics. And, sometimes, they need to be ignored, especially when the child is acting out in order to get attention.
Children who are at risk of hurting themselves or others should be taken to a place to calm down. If you put a child in timeout, consider ending the restriction once they regain control (as opposed to a set time limit). And if your child throws a tantrum to get out of a specific task – such as cleaning their room – make sure you follow through on having them do the task once their tantrum is over.
Once the tantrum abates:
After a tantrum has passed, do not reward your child by giving in – again, this only reinforces bad behavior. Instead, offer them praise for calming down. Tell them how proud you are that they are in control. And reassure them that they are loved, no matter what.
Tantrums are part of childhood, toddlerhood in particular. But the above tips can help stave them off. Keeping both your children and your sanity? Yep, it’s possible.