Oh no – not another temper tantrum!

We all dread going to the shops with a toddler, because you just never know when she is going to explode into a screaming, kicking and whining little monster! (Said in the most loving way I can…)

I once heard of this lady walking down the aisles in the grocery store. I think she was in the cereal aisle when her daughter started whining for a specific brand of cereal, which was not on the shopping list. She stated her case to her 3 year old and kept on walking. The little girl threw a magnificent tantrum in response. The mom kept on walking saying in an utterly calm voice: “Stay calm Ellen, stay calm.”  She kept on repeating this phrase, walking with her daughter in the trolley, whilst her daughter kept on screaming.  An elderly gentleman walked up to her and complimented her on the way she was speaking to her daughter, coaxing her to calm down.  The mother turned around to him and said: “Actually I am Ellen.”

No parent is lucky enough to escape the curse of toddler temper tantrums.  Tantrums are a normal part of growing up and should be expected. We should view tantrums as a developmental milestone and an opportunity to learn about acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Why Do Toddlers Throw Tantrums?

Toddles throw tantrums when they experience frustration with their inability to master their world.  It often occurs when your child’s limited language abilities prevents him to communicate his needs accurately.  It is helpful to keep in mind that toddlers understand much more than they are able to effectively communicate to us.  In addition to the language barrier, is the toddler’s need for autonomy.  The child is trying his utmost to control his environment.

There are certain known triggers that often set off a tantrum:

  • Being tired
  • When your child wants to do something that you will not allow
  • Being hungry
  • Being uncomfortable (for example a dirty nappy)
  • When you expect your child to do something he does not want to do
  • Wanting attention – remember negative attention is still better than no attention at all!
  • When he experiences frustration with his inability to master certain tasks that he set out for himself.

It is wise to try and avoid tantrums as far as possible – seeing that it is a negative experience for all parties involved. Here are some tips on how to avoid tantrums:

  1. Many tantrums are thrown when your child is looking for attention.  Even an occasional reassuring gesture will avoid your child for seeking negative attention.
  2. Try to give your child a sense of control.  Rather than just uttering your will give him limited choices.
  3. Keep the objects you know will lead to tantrums out of sight and out of reach.
  4. Toddlers have a short attention span, try to use it to your advantage by distracting your child through either changing the environment or offering new activities.
  5. Age-appropriate tasks limit your child’s frustration for not being able to master tasks set out for him.
  6. As a parent you have to choose your battles. Ask yourself if your child’s request is really unreasonable.
  7. Give fewer instructions at a time.

If the inevitable still occurs, these tactics might be helpful:

  1. Keep your cool!
  2. Do not hit or spank your child for throwing a tantrum – it is a reward for seeking attention.
  3. Try and understand the cause for the tantrum.  If you understand why your child is frustrated, it is easier to find a reasonable solution.
  4. Ignore a tantrum, but keep your child within your sight to prevent him from hurting himself.
  5. If you are in a public place, try to remove your child to a calm and quiet area. Usually your car would be a good place where you can strap him into his car seat and allow him to become calm.  Unfortunately this is not always possible.
  6. Do not ever reward your child by giving in to his demands.  This sets a president that tantrums actually work.
  7. Try to give loving reassurance once he has calmed down.
  8. Cut down on the amount of times you say “no” per day.
  9. Try to be reasonable without trying to reason with him.
  10. Time-outs give your child the opportunity to calm down.  It is important that your child is able afterwards to explain why he was put into time-out.
  11. It is wise to warn your child of changes that are going to happen. Give warnings like: “five minutes to bath time, that means only five minutes of playing left.”
  12. Routine makes life predictable for a child and is often the best way to guard against unwanted tantrums.

We often do not realize that the manner in which we deal with daily frustrations might be what our child mimics when things do not go the way he wants it to play out.  Try to be a good model for your child.  In other words behave in the way you want your child to behave.