Got a toddler? Then we bet you’ve got tantrums! While tantrums are a normal part of child development and a natural response to anger, disappointment, frustration and a host of other strong negative emotions, they can be horrible to deal with, especially in a public place. At Westchester Health, we’ve dealt with toddlers’ tantrums for decades, as well as numerous frazzled parents. To help everyone get through this difficult stage, Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with our Westchester Health Pediatrics group, shares tips for preventing tantrums, and when that’s not possible, ways to survive them.
The reasons toddlers have tantrums
Many toddlers have tantrums around the time of language development in the 2nd year of life. Before they can express themselves fully with words, tantrums can be a way for them to try to get what they need. Because toddlers can’t yet say what they want, feel or need, a frustrating experience may cause a tantrum, especially if they are tired or hungry. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease. In addition, learning to deal with frustration is a skill that children gain over time.
Preschoolers as well as older kids are more likely to use tantrums to get their way if they’ve learned that this behavior works. Once kids are old enough to have started school, it’s appropriate to send them to their rooms to cool off, then return when they can behave appropriately.
6 ways to prevent tantrums before they start
Here are some parent-tested ways to nip potential tantrums in the bud before they spiral out of control.
1) Set fair, consistent and firm limits on your child’s behavior. “No” needs to mean “no.” When you say “no,” don’t change your mind and give in to your child’s demands. This confuses children and teaches them that “no” sometimes means “yes.”
2) Know what to expect from your child based on his/her age and abilities. Parents who expect too much often correct their child more than they need to, or ask the child to do things that he or she isn’t able to do. This increases the child’s frustration which can lead to tantrums.
3) Praise and thank your child when he/she behaves appropriately and does things you would expect from a child that age.
4) Allow your toddler to make simple choices for himself/herself. Lay out a few acceptable choices and then let your child choose what to eat or which clothes to wear. Being able to make their own choices reduces frustration and helps children develop self-confidence.
5) Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. With too little sleep, kids can become hyper, disagreeable and have extremes in behavior. Getting enough sleep can dramatically reduce tantrums. Find out how much sleep is needed at your child’s age and really try to make sure he/she is getting the proper amount.
6) Once your child calms down after a tantrum, listen to his/her reasons for getting so upset and together, talk about ways to avoid a similar meltdown in the future.
When a tantrum can’t be avoided
Sometimes in spite of your best efforts, there’s nothing you can do to stop your child from throwing a tantrum. When that happens, here are 6 things you can do to weather the storm.
1) Ignore the tantrum. Walk away. The more attention you give a tantrum, the more fuel you give it.
2) Redirect your child’s focus. Bring out a new toy or one that hasn’t been played with for awhile. Fix a snack. Start singing and clapping to a favorite song on a CD the radio. Go outdoors.
3) Choose your battles and compromise when you can. Sometimes you have to give in to your child’s wishes a little. Just don’t make this a habit; otherwise the tantrums could become regular occurrences.
4) Know your child’s limits. When your hungry is over-hungry, over-tired and/or over-stimulated, it’s a recipe for a tantrum.
5) Never allow hitting, kicking, biting, screaming or throwing things. You must have a zero-tolerance policy for these types of out-of-control behaviors.
6) Plan ahead, and be ready to change those plans when need be. If tantrums tend to happen when your toddler is hungry, stock up on snacks before leaving home. If tantrums are more likely when your child is tired, build in more nap time during the day or sleep time at night.
The good news
Kids eventually grow out of tantrums. As they mature, they gain self-control and learn to cooperate, communicate and cope with frustration. Less frustration and more control mean fewer tantrums—and happier parents.
If you’re having a hard time with your toddler’s tantrums, please contact one of our pediatricians
If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, have questions or would like some advice and guidance, contact our Westchester Health Pediatrics group to see one of our pediatricians. Together with you, they will find solutions so that you, your child and your family can enjoy these years together.
To read Dr. Adler’s blog in full, click here.