Tantrums come in all shapes and sizes. They can involve spectacular explosions of anger, frustration and disorganised behaviour – when your child ‘loses it’.
If you are a parent, chances are you have been on the receiving end of a tantrum.
Tantrums come in all shapes and sizes. They can involve spectacular explosions of anger, frustration and disorganised behaviour
– when your child ‘loses it’.
You might see crying, screaming, stiffening limbs, an arched back, kicking, falling to the ground or even running away. In some cases, children hold their breath, vomit
, break things or get aggressive as part of a tantrum.
Why tantrums happen:
Tantrums are very common in children aged 1-3 years. It is also important to note that tantrums around this age are also very normal!
This is because children’s social and emotional skills are only just starting to develop at this age. Children often don’t have the words to express big emotions. They want more independence but fear being separated from you. And they’re discovering that they can change the way the world works.
Tantrums are one of the ways that young children express and manage feelings while also trying to understand or change what’s going on around them.
Older children can have tantrums too. This can be because they haven’t learned more appropriate ways to express or manage feelings or they don’t have the language or verbal skills yet. Some older children might be slower than others to develop self-regulation.
For both toddlers and older children, there are things that can make tantrums more likely to happen:
- Their temperament - this can influence how quickly and strongly children react to things like frustrating events. Children who get upset easily might be more likely to have tantrums.
- Stress, hunger, tiredness and overstimulation – these can make it harder for children to express and manage feelings and behaviour.
- Situations that children just can’t cope with – for example, a toddler might have trouble coping if an older child takes a toy away.
- Strong emotions – worry, fear, shame and anger can be overwhelming for children
Self-Regulation is the ability to understand and manage behaviour and reactions. Children start developing it from around 12 months. As your child gets older, they’ll be more able to regulate their reactions and calm down when something upsetting happens. You’ll see fewer tantrums as a result.
Tune into your child’s feelings. If you’re aware of your child’s feelings, you might be able to sense when big feelings are on the way. You can talk about what’s going on and help your child manage difficult feelings.
Identify tantrum triggers. For example, your child might have tantrums when your food shopping. You might try plan ahead in future and do your shopping after lunch/nap time instead.
Talk about emotions with your child. When your child struggles with a difficult feeling, encourage him to name the feeling and what caused it. For example, ‘Did you throw your toy because you were angry that it wasn’t working? What else could you have done?’.
What to do when your child has a tantrum:
- Stay calm. Take a moment for yourself if you need to. If you get angry, it’ll make the situation harder for both you and your little one. If you need to speak at all, keep your voice calm and level, and act deliberately and slowly.
- Acknowledge your child’s difficult feelings. Naming them and acknowledging them can help a child identify with why they are feeling a certain way.
- Wait out the tantrum. Stay close to your child so they know you’re there. But don’t try to reason with her or distract her. It’s too late once a tantrum has started.
- Be consistent and calm in your approach. If you sometimes give your child what she wants when she has tantrums and you sometimes don’t, the problem could get worse.
- Don’t reward a tantrum. For example, if your child has a tantrum because you say no to buying her a toy but then you buy the toy anyway, this rewards the tantrum. Shouting or pleading with your child when she has tantrums can also be a reward because it gives your child attention.
- Develop a strategy for tantrums. Have a clear plan for how you’ll handle a tantrum in whatever situation you’re in. Concentrate on putting your plan into action when the tantrum happens.
- Accept that you can’t control your child’s emotions or behaviour directly. You can only keep your child safe and guide your child’s behaviour, so tantrums are less likely to happen in the future.
- Accept that it takes time for change to happen. Your little one has a lot of growing up to do before tantrums are gone forever. Developing and practising self-regulation skills is a life-long task.
- Beware of thinking that your child is doing it on purpose or is trying to get you. Children don’t have tantrums deliberately – they’re stuck in a bad habit or just don’t have the skills right now to cope with the situation.
If other people give you dirty looks, ignore them. They’ve either never had children, or it’s been so long since they had a young child that they’ve forgotten what it’s like.
And, always remember to go easy on yourself. You’re doing a great job, mama.