You’re shopping along nicely at your favorite clothing store with your child one day and things are going surprisingly well. That is, until your sweet child decides that she is not having fun anymore and is not afraid to let you know it. She begins whining. She asks how much longer? She’s hungry and the whole store knows it. You politely tell her to stop whining and be patient. It doesn’t work. The whining escalates, you become tense, firmly tell her that if she doesn’t stop being disruptive she will suffer serious consequences (yet, in what way, you’ve no clue).
Then, the temper tantrum begins. She throws herself down on the floor and starts crying and screaming. You? You are mortified. You wish you didn’t have to deal with this right now (or ever). You feel everyone’s eyes on you. You wonder if they think you are a bad mother. You wonder how on earth you got to the point where a two year old rules your world and could make you feel this way. So what do you do?
Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to handle tantrums- especially during one. You’ve heard advice from experts and your friends, but during the moments when your child is screaming ear-piercing screams and displaying a spectacle for all to see, your blood is boiling, you’re frustrated, embarrassed, and not sure the best way to handle the situation.
Why do kids have tantrums?
Actually, it’s quite normal for parents to encounter a tantrum here and there with their child. They’re most common between the ages of 1 and 3, but can continue thereafter as well. A tantrum can consist of crying, screaming, thrashing about, kicking, holding the breath, and hitting. The reason? Usually it’s due to a child not knowing how to handle their extreme frustration.
You know when you’re running late for work and get stuck behind someone driving 20 kilometres below the speed limit and you get to feeling very frustrated? You want to ram your car into the back of their car and shout out a few choice words while you’re at it, but you don’t. You have self-control and some positive coping skills (well, most days). Toddlers don’t always know how to handle their frustrations, so a tantrum is just their way of venting; of getting out what is bottled up within them.
Other reasons a tantrum can occur is because your child is overly tired, seeking your attention, or extra hungry. At such a young age, when language skills are still quite primitive, children cannot talk about what their wants and needs are. This can become quite frustrating for them and sometimes- especially when overly tired- a child feels like his only release will come from having a temper tantrum.
Here are some helpful tips that may help you avoid and deal with temper tantrums:
Use distraction. When you sense your child becoming frustrated about something, if possible, distract her by bringing her attention to something different. If she’s extremely frustrated because she can’t tie her shoes like her big brother and has been unsuccessfully trying for 15 minutes, go ahead and ask her if she wants to talk to Grandma on the phone (assuming she will love the idea). While she’s talking, go ahead and tie her shoes in hopes that she’ll forget all about her frustrations. You can also distract a child by changing the environment or giving him a new object of attention.
Offer choices. Your child will want more independence little by little and may become frustrated if he never feels independent. Go ahead and give him choices as often as you can. Ask questions like, “Would you like milk or juice with your lunch” or “Do you want to wear the red or the blue shirt today?” Using choice questions regarding bath time and brushing teeth is a good idea too, as many tantrums have occurred over hygiene issues. Say “Would you like to brush your teeth after your bath or now?”
Give quality attention. Children really like attention, so if they feel like they aren’t getting enough, frustration will begin to rise within them and a tantrum could result. It may be negative attention they will get, but it’s attention none-the-less. Spend small doses of quality time engaging with your child throughout the day playing games, talking, reading books, playing make believe, etc. Be sure to offer much praise and affirmation while your child is “being good”, as this reinforces the good behavior.
You’ll be surprised how much mileage you get by stopping what you are doing for 5 minutes and engaging with them for that time. It can often satisfy them again and give you some more time to finish what you’re doing.
Children have limits. If you’ve been shopping for two hours and still have a couple hours to go, understand that your child may tired and cranky. Plus, children tend to be much less excited about shopping as we are. If it’s nap time, it’s probably not the best time to run errands or head to the mall. So remain realistic about your expectations and get rid of those old pre-parent reference points of shopping days out with the girls. You may be in conflict with your new reality.
Stay calm. This is so much easier said than done. I know when my kids had a tantrum I could literally feel my blood begin to boil. Experts say that it is best to remain calm, cool, and collected when dealing with temper tantrums. If you show your anger or frustration, it may cause them to feel even more frustration. Take a few deep breaths, imagine sipping an iced tea at your favorite exotic location, and focus on staying calm. Another tip can be to imagine your child at a time when they are laughing and happy, because this can put it into perspective that their current behavior does not define all of their being.
Try to understand the situation from their perspective. Your child isn’t really trying to be a stinker and bring chaos to your life. He’s just frustrated and doesn’t know how to handle the negative emotions he’s feeling. Maybe his feelings were hurt or he’s extra tired. Perhaps he just craves independence or wants your attention. Try to see life from his perspective and where he might be at in his development.
Ignore the behavior. If you’re toddler is having a tantrum because she was told no or didn’t get her way, do your best to ignore the behavior while staying in sight. This lets the child know that her tantrum will not change the outcome. The answer is still no and she still won’t get her way- even by throwing a tantrum. She is basically testing you in the hopes that you’ll change your mind.
Verbally praise and affirm afterward. Once your child has regained composure, go ahead and offer praise for his ability to get through the frustration. Give affirmations of love and reassure him that you adore him for who he is.
Avoid smacking. Experts advise parents to refrain from smacking their children during or after a temper tantrum, as it gives children the idea that coping with negative behavior with more negative behavior is acceptable.
Rest assured that the phase of temper tantrums ends eventually as children mature and develop. Their ability to cope with frustration and anger will get better with time, if they learn how to respond in a different way.
So stay solution focused about how to teach them this alternative way to respond when we don’t get what we want and try to model that alternative too. The sooner they learn an alternative, the sooner the tantrums will subside.