Temper tantrums are a reality all parents experience from time to time, and even though they can be exhausting, there are benefits. Consider that your younger child has only been on the earth for a handful of years and every powerful emotion is new to them. Tantrums allow children to express their frustration with what’s happening in the moment. Sometimes it’s as simple as being hungry, tired or overstimulated. Sometimes it’s a combination of factors, and your child does not have the vocabulary to express fear, anger, or desire for independence.
Help your kids cope
Teaching children how to name and appropriately respond to feelings gives them the opportunity to become more self-aware. Martha Campbell, a mental health counselor with A Renewed Mind in Toledo, has this advice for parents. “When a child is having a meltdown, it’s important to ask what the goal is for their behavior. Do they want to eat? Sleep? Are they trying to manipulate you?”
Campbell says that most children don’t throw a tantrum to frustrate their parent, but older ones may have learned that tantrums, particularly ones in public, will be rewarded. It’s important to set consistent, clear boundaries with your child and not give in to a meltdown or allow him/her to get out of something they may not like.
While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent tantrums, it’s good to know that as children grow, so too does their ability to mindfully manage their emotions. But what’s a mom or dad to do in the meantime? Parenting is a skill often learned through trial by fire, and dealing with strong emotions (especially those brought out by your child’s tantrum) can be quite challenging.
“Affirm your child’s feelings using a soothing tone,” says Jenni Miller, a former preschool teacher at West Side Montessori. “Tell your child that things people feel are never wrong, though choices can be. Speak with resolve so that your child can sense you have confidence in what’s best for him/her. This is different than having authority, though that can be important and have its place, too.”
Perhaps the best tool is being aware of how you express your own emotions in front of your child. Jenni suggests giving your child space (emotionally and perhaps physically) and if the tantrum increases, walk away until he/she is ready to talk. Start by affirming their feelings, then state what needs to change. If your son/daughter is not ready, that’s okay. Let him/her sit and decide when they can choose different behavior. Above all, make sure you explain consequences for both positive and negative behavior and be consistent with following through.
The good news is that, even though it may seem a lot longer, the average tantrum lasts around three minutes. So while your child is happily playing post-meltdown, and you may still be agitated from having to deal with an outburs, that’s a good time to take a deep breath, regroup, and take heart in the fact that this too shall pass.
Be consistent. Establish a routine you can stick with as much as possible. Set reasonable limits and follow through consistently.
Plan ahead. Run errands when your child is well-fed and rested. If you know you need to stand in line, bring a bag of snacks or a small toy.
Let your child choose. To avoid saying “No,” give your child a sense of control by allowing him/her to make choices. (i.e. “Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue one?”)
Select a timeout spot. When your child has a meltdown at home, seat him/her in a chair and wait until the outburst ceases. If your child gets up anyway, return him/her to the chair and do not respond to anything your child says until the timeout is over.
Reaffirm feelings. Once your child has calmed down, reassure him/her that you understand their feelings and use age-appropriate language to discuss healthier ways of expressing them.
Be patient. Most children begin to have fewer tantrums by age 3 1/2. If your child is having trouble speaking at an age appropriate level, is causing harm to himself/herself or others, holding his/her breath during a tantrum to the point of fainting, or if tantrums get worse after the age of 4, talk to your pediatrician.