Parents all around the world are all-too familiar with the ‘terrible twos,’ but ask any parent and they’ll tell you it carries on into the treacherous threes, frightening fours and so on.
Tantrums are a normal part of growing up and come in all shapes and sizes. They can involve explosions of anger, disorganised behaviour and frustration. During a tantrum, you might see your child crying, screaming, kicking, falling down or flailing about; and they can be triggered by multiple situations or discomforts. Some children have them often and some have them rarely.
Why do Tantrums Happen?
The short answer is that tantrums happen because your child’s brain is developing and they are learning to deal with ‘big’ emotions. It’s usually at this age where they want more independence and control over their environment.
Until their cortex, the reasoning and thinking part of their brain is developed, children express big emotions in the form of a tantrum. It often means they’re frustrated or being misunderstood because they are still too young to regulate their emotions and may lack the words to tell their parents how they’re feeling.
Some triggers that may spark a tantrum include being tired, hungry, overstimulated or stressed. Young children experiencing tantrums need reassurance and nurturing from adults as they learn to manage these feelings on their own.
Can Tantrums be Prevented?
Reduce triggers – tantrums may be prevented by reducing stress, tuning into your child’s feelings and identifying tantrum triggers and reducing them.
Communication skills – Encourage your child to point at what is upsetting them if your child lacks the communication skills to explain what has frustrated them. To help them develop these skills, talk and read with them as much as possible to help with speech and communication skills.
Reward good behaviour – Encourage your child to use words to express their wants and needs and reward good behaviour.
What to do When your Child Throws a Tantrum
Sometimes even when you try your best to prevent them, tantrums still happen, and that is okay – it’s all a part of growing up. Here are some tips for handling tantrums.
Stay calm – or at least, pretend to. Take a moment to calm down if you feel yourself getting angry. Model the behaviour that you want your child to display.
Acknowledge their feelings – Calmly acknowledge what they’re feeling. For instance, you can say “it’s upsetting when you drop your snack, isn’t it?”. This can help your child understand what they’re feeling, and it may stop the behaviour from getting out of control.
Use distraction – Distraction may work better for younger children because they have shorter attention spans.
Don’t give in – Avoid giving in to your child’s demands. If they are throwing a tantrum because you’ve refused to buy them something at the store, don’t buy it for them to calm them down. This may teach the child that their tantrum is being rewarded. If you give in every time and sometimes don’t, this could make the problem worse.
Reassurance – Stay close to your child while they’re having the tantrum and reassure them that they’re okay and that you love them.
Keep them safe – Some children will hold their breath, run away or break things during a tantrum. If this is the case, take them to a safe place until the tantrum has passed.
When to Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if the tantrums cause a lot of bad feelings between you and your child, they become more frequent or last longer, your child often hurts themselves or others or they seem very disagreeable and rarely cooperate. Sometimes problems with hearing, vision, language delays or a learning disability can make a child more likely to have tantrums.
Tantrums are equally common in both boys and girls and usually happen between the ages of one and three. They usually stop on their own as children learn self-regulation and advance their communication skills. Hang in there – tantrums are definitely not an indication that you’re doing anything wrong as a parent!