Tempering tantrums

oost parents with a bit of experience can look at a toddler tantrum and analyse it pretty quickly. It’s most likely to happen in the afternoon, when the child is tired and the adults are in a hurry. It’s also likely to happen when a child is hungry or thirsty. And because the child has no other way of saying, “I want it and you’re not letting me and that’s unfair,” tantrums are a perfectly normal phase for kids between one and three years ago, and it helps to and three years of age, and it helps to understand why they happen.

Tantrums reflect a stage of development where your child wants more independence but this collides with emotional and verbal immaturity. Unable to express their feelings in words, toddlers instead discharge them with screaming and a physical frenzy.

Here are some tips for thinking ahead and avoiding tantrums:

  • What is your child’s tired time? Is it at 5pm, when you’ve just picked him up from daycare? or is it about 2pm, just before his sleep? So why would you take him into a supermarket at that time? Find other, better times to get the grocery shopping or visit friends.

  • The good advice not to go food shopping when we’re hungry is a great idea for kids too. A hungry child is more likely to desire something sweet and bad for them and then get upset when they’re not allowed it. Avoid the confrontation by making sure your child has been fed, and have some healthy treats on hand to distract them with.

  • Think about giving your newly emerging independent child some choices. Let them have some control over little things like, “Do you want milk or juice to drink?” or, “Do you want to brush your teeth now or after your bath?” You are sending them the message that you’re listening to them.

  • Keep tantrum-starters out of reach and out of sight. You know where the lollies aisle is in the supermarket so don’t go there. Likewise any other temptation.

  • Make sure your child isn’t throwing a tantrum simply because they’re not getting enough attention. For a child, even a negative response is better than no attention at all. Think about the last time you gave your child a positive response for something they’d done. Watch out for good behaviour and make a point of giving your child a lot of praise.

  • Distraction has saved many a drama in my house – even with the adults! Your child has a very short attention span at this age so if you realise an activity is about to turn pear-shaped, distract them with another activity of equal fascination. If she’s bashing her sister’s head with a toy hammer, take her outside and show her how to bash a piece of wood instead. Try changing rooms or immediately change the scene to inside or outdoors.

  • Choose your battles. Is it really going to change the world if they have it now? Is the request outrageous or can you accommodate it? Could they perhaps have a piece of chocolate, rather than the whole bar? Does it really matter if your kid brushes their hair with their toothbrush just this once?

  • If it’s a safety issue, like children wanting to play with knives, do not give in. Use time out or simply hold your child firmly while they have their tantrum. You must send out the message that you are inflexible on these matters.

  • If you do have to deal with a tantrum, remember to keep your cool. Do not react with anger either physically or emotionally. Stay with your child but pay no attention to them until the storm is over. Then help them “get settled” with a hug and reassurance that you still love them and a positive verbal reinforcement for getting over it. But under no circumstances should you give in. Be aware that, if you do, you will have taught your child that tantrums work.

  • There are times when you may need to see your GP (or a counsellor). If you are unhappy with the way you are reacting to your child’s tantrums, you feel you are losing control, your child is hurting themselves or others, or their tantrums are increasing in frequency, intensity or duration, you may need to discuss it with a health professional.

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