Why your toddler has tantrums

Toddler tantrums

All parents experience challenging behavior from children at some time. In this post, you will find explanations for bad behavior, toddler tantrums and the best advice on what to do to handle it.

What’s causing the behavior?

When your child is being awful, remember he is a little person with highly complex emotional reactions and psychological needs. Children do not have the maturity to communicate their feelings effectively and this can lead to outbursts of bad behavior. As kids mature, they gain self-control. They learn to cooperate, communicate, and cope with frustration.

Tantrums may happen when kids are tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. Kids can have an outburst because they can’t get something (like a toy or a parent) to do what they want. They may be angry or frustrated with someone; they may be being bullied at school or jealous of the attention being paid to siblings; they may be struggling with some event, such as the loss of a relative, a friend, or a pet. Tantrums are common during the second year of life when language skills are starting to develop. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease.

How to handle tantrums:

Keep in mind that the too-good child who does not have tantrums may have learned early in life that when he expressed big feelings, he elicited a frightening parental response, and that the price of parental love and approval is total compliance. The too-good child misses out on the vital brain sculpting that he gets from his parents when he expresses big, dramatic feelings.

Tantrums, while unpleasant, are a normal part of child development. Instead of considering them as a challenge, you can perceive tantrums as an opportunity to give your child all the necessary tools he needs to manage frustration right away and later in his life. Try not to shout and issue endless commands, ‘Do this’, ‘Don’t do that’ without explanations – in contrast, lots of play, laughter and cuddles are more likely to activate the brain’s play and care system of your child.

Don’t forget how important it is to acknowledge the real needs of your child. Your child may have an unmet physical need for sleep or food, but this is not always the case. If the child is not tired and is feeling awful for another reason, this incorrect labeling means a painful experience of misunderstanding for the child and the missing of an opportunity for real resolution of the problem. 

Just as every child is different, every tantrum is different, too. Since no one method will stop every tantrum every time for every child, familiarize yourself with several different tantrum-taming techniques:

  • Distraction. Offer something else, start a new activity or simply change the environment.
  • Sit down calmly next to your child with eye contact and understand that tantrums are normal toddler behavior
  • Hold your child tenderly. An expression of your love and affection may reassure a child who is feeling overwhelmed
  • Stay as calm as possible. If you’re not calm yourself, it is much harder for your child to calm down
  • Avoid putting your child in a room on his own. However, kids who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down.
  • Avoid recriminations. Resist the urge to admonish your child for the tantrum after the fact. Younger children might not even remember the tantrum or understand what you’re referring to, while older children might feel so ashamed that they tantrum all over again.
  • Plan ahead to avoid tantrum triggers. Fatigue and hunger are common triggers for toddler tantrums. Pack snacks when you venture out and, if possible, schedule activities that don’t disrupt usual naps.
  • Nero tantrum, which is about the desire to control and manipulate, should be treated differently. In this case, do not give your child an audience, do not try to reason, argue with, or persuade. Give clear, firm nos and use humor. Use time out as last resort. 

Seek professional assistance if your child experiences unusually long, intense, or frequent tantrums, hurt himself/herself or others, or if you often feel out of control when responding to tantrums. Be kind to yourself when things don’t go to plan and a tantrum happens. Do not take tantrums personally, like it is your fault, all parents learn as they go. You’re doing your best, and you can’t control everything.

References

Tantrums: why they happen and how to respond. (2022, February 25). Raising Children Network. https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/behaviour/crying-tantrums/tantrums‌

Temper Tantrums (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth. (2018). Kidshealth.org. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tantrums.html

‌Sunderland, M. (2016). The science of parenting : how today’s brain research can help you raise happy, emotionally balanced children. Dk.

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