Dealing with Temper Tantrums

Question: My two year old is beginning to throw tantrums. I can deal with them at home but in the grocery store or the mall is embarrassing. Any suggestions?

Answer: Parenting a toddler is definitely not easy. In fact I think those are those most trying years of all. There are lots of resources you can go to in order to find information on tantrums. One piece of literature that I found very helpful is from the Talaris Research Institute in Seattle Washington called Here Comes a Tantrum. It explains that tantrums happen no matter how hard we try to understand our child’s needs. Sometimes we just can’t prevent a child from kicking, screaming and crying. It’s definitely not fun for us or our child and it can be a helpless and embarrassing feeling – especially when it happens in public.

First of all let’s understand what causes a meltdown. It’s often hard to pinpoint the cause, after all there’s lot going on inside the head of a toddler. She truly wants to be independent, but her skills don’t yet match her desires. Not only is your toddler learning how to handle a lot of different emotions, but also how to handle being hungry, tired, bored, or overwhelmed.

Sometimes our busy schedules are a little more than a toddler can handle. Most parents are pretty good at recognizing the early signs of frustration that can lead to a meltdown. Maybe it’s a frown, sighing or pulling away or an attempt to communicate that is not very clear. A child could go from smiles to stomping and creaming within seconds. But the good news is tantrums do not last forever. In fact, usually by age 4 or 5 they seldom occur.

Now here are some tips:

  • Stay close and stay calm: It’s tempting to get upset but it is not a good idea. As tough as tantrums are for you, keep in mind your child is not having fun either. Stay close and calm, talk softly and let her know you understand. You’re helping her feel safe and she’s learning to manage her emotions by watching how you handle hers and yours!
  • That’s not all right: Once your child has settled down, ask her what she was feeling. Was she “angry” or “frustrated” or “hurt”. If someone was hurt by her she needs to know that her behavior is not acceptable. You might say “It’s not all right to hurt someone”. If she didn’t do anything wrong, don’t punish her for having a tantrum. Instead, talk to her about her behavior and let her know that her feelings are important.

Remember, tantrums are a normal part of child development and a signal of your child’s growing independence. And tantrums usually disappear by 4 or 5 years of age – so hang in there. Try to use them as another “teachable moment”.

For more information from The Talaris Research Institute visit: www.talaris.org.

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