Tactics For Tackling A Toddler's Temper Tantrum

By: Shen-Li Lee

For a first time parent, it is important to realise that even the best behaved toddler will have an occasional temper tantrum. Temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood development and can vary depending on the nature and temperament of your child. It is also important to know that your child's temper tantrums are not necessarily a result of poor parenting. Family members and others may judge you on your child's temper tantrums and you should ignore them.
Temper tantrums involve whining and crying and may include screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. Equally common in boys and girls, they usually occur between the ages of 1 to 3. As mentioned earlier, tantrums vary depending on a child's nature and individual temperament. While some children experience regular tantrums, in other children, tantrums may be rare. Some children are more prone to throwing a temper tantrum than others and you may observe these differences between your own children.
Why Temper Tantrums Occur
Toddlerhood is a stage where children are most actively learning about the world around them. They are learning new skills, rules, and boundaries on a daily basis as well as learning to deal with the intensity of their emotions and how to cope with them. When they experience difficulties completing a task, their only means of expressing their frustrations is through tantrums.
Toddlers are also egocentric and believe that the world revolves around them. Naturally, when they are prevented from taking something they desire or when they come up against the boundaries that parents have set their inability to cope with their emotions and disappointments become evident through tantrums. While the reason for a child's disappointment might seem small and insignificant to a parent, it is important for a parent to realize that for a two-year-old child, running out of a favourite cereal really is the end of the world.
Certain situations can also make temper tantrums more likely to occur. For instance, when a child is tired, hungry, uncomfortable or seeking a parent's attention. Tantrums also result because of a child's inability to express feelings through words - hence the reason why they are most common between the ages of 1 to 3, when children are still learning the language of communication.
Tactics for Managing Temper Tantrums
1. Communication Skills
Firstly, it is important to be aware that temper tantrums begin to decrease as children develop the language skills to express their feelings. Having the ability to articulate their emotions can provide and alternative outlet for their frustrations. It is important, therefore, to help your child channel his or her frustrations through an alternative outlet by offering them language.
Because children understand a lot more than they can express, some parents have found that teaching Sign Language to their infants can help reduce tantrums. A child can learn to sign before learning how to speak and having this alternative means of communication reduces the level of frustration he or she feels. Sign Language can be taught from as early as five months old however, when the child learns to sign will vary from individual to individual. Some children may begin signing as early as 10 months old, while others may not begin to sign until past the first year.
Even if you haven't taught your child how to sign, offering words to express their intense emotions can sometimes be effective in diffusing a temper tantrum. Parents articulating for a child what they believe the child feels can help the child feel understood. Returning to our earlier example of a child who is disappointed that a favourite breakfast cereal has run out, a parent can help that child cope by articulating the cause for the disappointment: "You're upset because there's no more cereal."
A parent should also be aware that when a child is caught up in a fit of a temper tantrum, his or her cognitive level also decreases. The ability to register what a parent is saying reduces drastically and often the child may not "hear" the parent's empathic reply. There are a couple of ways to deal with this. The technique used often depends on the individual child and which method that offers the best success may vary from child to child and even situation to situation.

  • Parents can hold the child calmly until the tantrum passes before offering their child words to express their feelings.

  • Parents can be present wait until the tantrum passes without holding the child, and then offer the words to express their feelings.

  • Parents can articulate the child's disappointment at the time of the child's tantrum using a method devised by paediatrician, Harvey Karp. Because the child is hysterical and crying, the child will not be able to register complicated sentences with too many words. Parents can make themselves easier to understand by reducing the complexity of their language to one that would be easier for a distressed child to understand. For instance: "You're mad, mad, mad! Because no cereal! No cereal!" And continue repeating the words until the child registers what is being said.

2. Control Situations and Environment
As a parent, you will learn the triggers and conditions that make your child more prone to developing a temper tantrum. By limiting such situations, you can reduce the number of tantrums that your child experiences.
For instance, keep objects that are off-limits out of sight and out of reach avoid battles of will. Toddlers often want what they can't have, but if they aren't aware it is there, they won't fight for it. Alternatively, if a child is young enough, the distraction technique can work - replace the coveted object with another equally desirable object that they can have or begin a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Older children tend to be more immune to this as their attention is more focused and not so easily diverted.
If you know your child melts down more easily when hungry, keep a stash of snacks on hand for emergencies. Also keep activities on hand to avoid boredom from triggering confrontational moments when a child gets into trouble for doing something undesirable while looking for something to do. For example, offering toys to play with so they don't climb the chairs and tables at a restaurant.
3. Positive Reinforcement
Sometimes a child acts up because he or she isn't getting enough attention from a parent. Studies have shown that children would rather experience negative attention than no attention. Make sure your child isn't acting up as a means of gaining attention by providing plenty of opportunity for spending time together. A child who's attention needs are satiated doesn't need to seek negative attention.
Always be on the lookout for good behaviour and reward your child with attention and praise whenever you can. This encourages them to act appropriately to gain more praise and attention from their parents.
4. Select Your Battles
Before the age of one, a child is often encouraged to try everything. Every whim and fancy is met with a positive "yes". As a child grows older, they begin to encounter more "nos" as they learn what behaviours are not acceptable and which objects are off-limits. The frustration of always hearing the word "no" can be very challenging. It can be equally hard on a parent to always be at loggerheads with a child.
Try to minimize confrontations by assessing your child's desire before saying, "No." Sometimes the request is not necessarily an unreasonable one. Accommodate whenever you can and be firm and consistent when you cannot. This is also important for keeping your "nos" effective. Remember that a toddler that hears the word "no" too often begins to become immune to it. So reserve it for the non-negotiable events and situations.
There are many ways to manage your child's temper tantrums and sometimes it isn't necessary to wait until your child has one before you deal with it.

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Shen-Li is a stay-at-home-mum dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in parenting. She has a formal educational background and former work experience in healthcare. If you enjoyed this article, visit her blog Babylicious and follow her as she learns how to raise a happy, confident and successful person.

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