Managing The Infamous Tantrums

Temper tantrumsAnyone who has survived a toddler tantrum can relate to the intense humiliation you feel as everyone in the immediate vicinity judges you, your child and your parenting abilities. Even if they’ve suffered through the same painful scenes with their own kids!

If the thought of enduring another toddler temper tantrum has you feeling exasperated, read on for some invaluable tips on how to handle this inevitable and painful stage in your toddlers development…


A little bit about tantrums

Tantrums generally start rearing their ugly head from the age of one and can last until your child is well into the five year mark (or even adulthood in some cases). Although these episodes seem to be concentrated around the age of two, hence the nickname -The terrible twos . The tantrums get more manageable as the child learns to communicate their feelings and frustrations better. Tantrums occur because the child is just learning to assert their independence. Whether the tantrums start when the -No phase starts, the two often go hand-in-hand. Tantrums generally last between 3 and 15 minutes, with the duration and intensity decreasing as the child learns better communication skills.

It’s often not until you’ve survived a few demonic tantrums that you start picking up on the patterns and the situations that might cause them. The thing about conquering a tantrum situation is that not every situation demands the same response. Sometimes a tantrum can be diverted by walking away, other times you need to notice what’s causing the frustration and provide some practical help.

The most common advice given to parents is to simply ignore the bad behaviour. Avoid eye contact, walk away and under no circumstances reciprocate with shouting. The idea not to reinforce the negative behaviour or to give the impression that shouting is a valid way of dealing with frustration.


Isolating the cause: stopping tantrums before they start

Just a few of the most common reasons for tantrums;

Tantrums can be caused by frustration: You know that feeling you get when you are so frustrated you want to punch your hand through something and shout obscenities? Now just imagine how difficult it might be to vent that frustration with the communication skills of a 2 year old! The frustration that leads to a tantrum is powerful and the experience is very real and distressing to your child too. If possible, help your child deal with the source of the frustration and diffuse the situation before it degrades into a full blown meltdown.

Tantrums can be caused by simple physical discomforts: A toddler that is hungry or tired is a sure-fire tantrum recipe. You can stop these tantrums through preventative measures; always ensuring your toddler is well-rested before attempting a shopping trip and always keep a stash of toddler-friendly snacks at hand. Try to schedule naps before big trips and keep long errand running trips to a minimum when you’re with your toddler.

Tantrums can be caused by more serious medical issues: There are some more subtle potential tantrum causes that can be quite easily fixed by a visit to your GP. If the tantrums are excessive, dangerous and unrelenting, there is something to be said for enlisting the help of a professional. The solution might be as simple as ear drops for a chronic ear infection or something that needs to be eliminated from their diet. Various health problems can manifest as constant screeching so it is well worth checking out if this may be the case in your situation. There is also the possibility that excessive tantrums could be caused by more serious conditions like brain damage or autism, so it’s worth having it checked out.

If you’re having difficulties identifying the tantrum causes and patterns, try keeping a journal. Keeping track of the time of the tantrum, the events leading up to the tantrum as well as any other information that may help you figure out what might have caused the tantrum.


Some more tantrum tactics

Many parents say they can see when a tantrum is coming and are able to divert it using one of the many tricks that are picked up along the way. The most important thing about dealing with tantrums is not to inadvertently reward the behaviour; it sets up a dangerous precedent that could follow them through the rest of their lives.

  •  Reward the behaviour you want to see: This means keeping a close eye on your child and praising them once they’ve quietened down. Rewarding good behaviour is infinitely more effective than punishing bad behaviour!
  • Switch to a quiet activity: Overstimulation can bring on a tantrum in many children. Remove the child from the situation and offer a quieter alternative activity or a nap if possible.
  • Give them options: If the tantrum is caused by asserting independence, the best thing you can do is to present an option. It’s too easy to forget that they are just asserting their independence in a normal way. Your toddler is his or her own person and they also need to feel some basic level of control.
  • Time out: Although public opinion is divided on the true effectiveness of a time out, it’s a great tool for frazzled parents who are at their wits end. In her book, -The Mighty Toddler , Robin Barker gives some great guidelines for creating an effective time out. Limit the time out to one minute for every year of age, and use a kitchen timer to monitor the time passing.
  • If a sensible response doesn’t work, you can always resort to throwing a tantrum yourself: Make a good enough show of it and your toddler might just be embarrassed of you!

While it might be tempting to step back into the crowd and pretend that the screaming little monster isn’t yours, the tantrums aren’t going anywhere until your toddler outgrows them or you learn to deal with them effectively.

Surviving the toddler ages can be hellish if you haven’t mastered the fine art of tantrum control. Using a combination of preventative measures and a few of these tips, you’re sure to find tantrum time just a little easier.


 – Kahea Rusch


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