How to Deal with Toddler Temper Tantrums
It could have started out as a wonderful day. You wake up in the morning, the sun is shining through your bedroom window, and you got a beautiful kid to cook breakfast for. Everything goes well. Your toddler absolutely loved that flapjacks you made him. You tell him to go get ready as you will go grocery shopping today. He happily obliges. You get to the grocery store and your tot is all kinds of excited about it. You breeze through aisle 1. Five quick minutes later, you find yourself in aisle 3, standing over your inconsolable toddler who is a ball of rage, throwing a fit on the floor. What in heaven’s name happened?
One minute your child seems happy and content, the next he’s become all sorts of dissatisfied, thrashing around like a Tasmanian. Some call these incidents as unfortunate episodes. Let’s call them temper tantrums. Temper tantrums are part of your everyday reality when you have a toddler at home. And, no, it’s not just happening to you. It happens to the best of us.
Understanding Toddler Temper Tantrums
Have you ever been ambushed by a temper tantrum? How to stop temper tantrums? As you try to hold back your tears of frustration and hide the embarrassment of being unable to control your screaming toddler, you must have thought at least once that you are at fault. Maybe the thought that your child is becoming a bad boy or girl has even crossed your mind. Well, stop. Temper tantrums are neither your nor your child’s fault. According to studies, these temper outbursts are actually a normal biological response of toddlers to anger and frustration.
The term, “the terrible twos”, have not been coined for nothing. Temper tantrums often begin when the child is two years of age. Your child, however, can start throwing a fit as early as 12 months and may continue well until his fourth birthday.
To help you understand more about temper tantrums, let’s try to discuss the science behind your child’s outbursts. There is a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. It is a part of the brain which is responsible for regulating our emotions. It serves to control our social behavior. It is the last to develop among the other areas of the brain. In fact, the prefrontal cortex will only have begun to mature when a child is four years of age. This is the reason why your toddler is still emotionally and socially immature. They are hardwired to misbehave.
The next time they throw a fit, you now know that their underdeveloped prefrontal cortex is to blame for all the flailing and irrational displays of emotion. Not you. Nor your child. It’s all science. And, well, magic. You see, children tend to think magically, instead of logically. Do not expect more from them. They are meant to be irrational. It is how they learn, eventually. Ordinary events that make sense to us seem ten times confusing to them. Confusion often leads to stress. They do not understand that having one too many candy bars is bad for them; they just know candy bars are delicious and that they want more. They are unable to rationalize why they can’t play with the grocery items along aisle 3; they just think they are all colorful and attractive. Imagine not being able to say what you mean or communicate what you want. That’s how your toddler feels like most of the time. For them, your ordinary surrounding is a big and scary world.
Common Triggers for Toddler Temper Tantrums
A temper tantrum is a child’s response to frustration and stress. Add to that the fact they can’t exactly express themselves and you’re sure to have your little bawling rebel come at you. Here are some of the common things that can cause a child to feel stressed or frustrated and eventually turn into toddler tantrums and hitting:
- Having the inability to communicate with words what he is feeling
- Having a need to get his way or assert independence
- Having a feeling of lack of control over his situation
- Hunger, boredom, overstimulation or fatigue
How to Prevent Toddler Temper Tantrums
Most temper tantrums are inevitable, but some may be prevented. There are things that you can do in order to take control over situations that are otherwise beyond you. Here are some tips on how to prevent temper tantrums:
Get familiar with your child’s personality.
Get to know your child and how well he reacts to keeping a schedule. Some kids respond better when they know what to expect during the course of the day. Having regular naptimes, mealtimes and bedtimes may help lessen your child’s stress. Some children, on the other hand, dread routine and enjoy spontaneity. Work with your child’s personality to avoid getting him unnecessarily upset over simple things.
Prevent your child from getting hungry, fatigued, bored or overstimulated.
Avoid setting a hectic schedule, otherwise, your child will end up tired and fatigued. Avoid letting him participate in demanding activities just before naptime. Your child will be too stimulated to sleep. Always have a healthy snack ready, especially if you will be going out for the day. To prevent him from getting bored, keep him busy with his favorite toy or book.
Lessen the need to point out limitations.
Kids get confused and stressed if you constantly have to cry out his limitations, like saying, “No, don’t touch that!” or “No, don’t go there!”. It may make them feel like they’re doing something wrong or bad. All you’re really concerned about is his safety, but they don’t understand that. By childproofing your home, you may avoid having to sound like an uptight mom who won’t let her child experience anything. This way, clear limits are set and you don’t even have to say them out loud.
Provide him an amount of independence.
You can do this by presenting him with simple choices. Make him choose between cereal or fruit yoghurt for breakfast. Ask him which shirt he’d like to wear for the day; the blue or the red one? Letting your child choose lets him feel that he’s in control.
Avoid saying, “maybe”.
“Maybe” sounds confusing to a toddler. In his understanding, you are saying yes. When he doesn’t get what you said he maybe could have, he gets stressed and angry. Say what you mean, whether it’s a yes or no. Negotiating a compromise is also more helpful than leading your child on.
What to Do When the Inevitable Temper Tantrum Happens
There is absolutely no way of telling it. Your child can melt down anytime, anywhere. Once a temper tantrum is full blown, all you can do is cope and deal with it. With the right timing and attitude, however, you may do some things to help you tame your little Tasmanian. Here are a few strategies on how to deal with toddler temper tantrums:
Engage your child in a game.
Encourage your child to play a game with you. This especially works when you are in places that can involve a lot of waiting, like in the airport or on a long road trip. Playing a game with your child will distract him from the thing that might be distressing him. It is also a great way to show him that you’re giving him some attention. Sometimes a tantrum is merely a way for your child to cry for attention.
Laughing is always a good idea. You know how they say laughter is the best medicine? Well, laughter can be the cure to a temper tantrum as well. Feel-good hormones are released whenever you laugh. Making your child break into fits of laughter will help curb the stress that’s making him want to throw fits of rage. It is generally easy to make a toddler laugh. Just do silly things like using a banana as a phone or making funny animal sounds.
Speak with a gentle and soft voice.
Do not attempt to out-yell your child when he’s bawling and screaming. Stay calm and don’t lose your cool. Of course that is easier said than done, especially when you’re faced with a not so pretty sight, your toddler kicking and screaming on the floor. You may even start to panic once he starts holding his breath as a sign of protest. This is a normal tantrum move. Remember that your toddler is taken by his emotions during a tantrum. His reasoning skills are shut down. He will only respond negatively if you yell at him. He may only become more defiant and aggressive. Speak softly. Talking in a calm voice will help soothe your child as well as keep you both relaxed. Children can easily pick up from the tone of our voice so if your child hears the tension in yours, he may only get amped up even more. The best way to do it is to whisper to him in a calm and gentle voice, while looking at him lovingly in the eyes. This will most likely make him want to quiet down to figure out what you are saying.
Ignore your toddler.
While you definitely want your toddler to stop his fussing, you don’t want him to get used to being tended to whenever he throws a fit; Otherwise he will think that it is the right way to get attention. If you feel like your child’s outburst is more of an act than a true distress call, try ignoring him. That is as long as he is not doing anything that could be harmful to himself or to other people. Try humming or singing loudly while he carries on so you could get the message across him.
Hold your ground.
Try your best not to give in to the unreasonable demands of your toddler during a temper tantrum. It isn’t just you who will lose when you give in. So will your child. Remember that most demands of a tantrum are not based on logical reason. Giving in just to stop your child’s tantrum will only reinforce the outburst. It sends your child the wrong message that throwing a fit will get him what he wants, no matter how irrational he may be. This will only worsen future conflicts. No matter how long the episode may last, stand your ground. Do away with worrying what others think if you happen to be in a public place. Experienced parents have been there, they will understand. Be firm with your child and calmly repeat to him what he needs to learn, like a rule about eating sweets for example. Consistency is important so as not to confuse your child in the future.
Take your child some place safe.
It is important to keep your child from doing something that could harm himself, or other people for that matter. When your child starts hitting people or throwing things, it is best to hold your child and bring him somewhere safe. You could bring him to his bedroom and stay there until he has calmed down. Calmly explain to him why he’s staying there. If you are in a public place, like in a restaurant, leave with your child until he has quieted down to avoid disrupting other people’s peace. Soothe him by holding him close. A loving touch can always get through any anger or frustration, both yours and your child’s. Hugging your child tightly will almost always do the trick.
Avoid resorting to physical punishment.
Physical punishment may be risky especially when your emotions get the better of you. It is never really a good idea. You yourself might lose control, which could prove to be dangerous. You will not only end up hurting your child physically, but you may also end up hurting him emotionally as well. Remember that emotional scars heal a whole lot slower than physical scars. You want your child to compose himself and behave accordingly because he loves you, not because he is afraid of you.
When to talk to your child’s doctor
It is best to consult with your child’s doctor when your child’s tantrums:
- Occur more than two times a day
- Are accompanied by intense feelings of anger or sadness
- Are often followed by aggression, and sleeping and eating disorder
- Occur regularly beyond the age of 4