This is one dreaded word for many parents and something I’ve hesitated to write on, even though I know its something that is relevant to almost every parent, just because there is so much information available online and each child is so unique that I don’t think there’s one magic solution for all temper tantrums. So in this post I’m not going to give any miracle answers to rid your child of temper tantrums forever (how I wish there was one!), but I’m just going to share some of the things I’ve learnt along the way and that really help in decreasing the frequency and intensity of tantrums.
1. Remember that each child is different
I’ve got three children and all three are absolutely different. My oldest boy, threw a few tantrums between the age of 2-3 and then became extremely rational and reasonable and talking through stuff with him really worked. My daughter (I call her my firecracker!) She’s six now and still could go into an unreasonable state! My youngest, the one year old, has just started throwing tantrums (which last for a few seconds!) but he’s so easily distractable.
So don’t ever compare your child with the other ‘perfect, extremely well mannered’ children around. Each child has their own personalities and life phases.
That being said, don’t just resign to temper tantrums and say there’s nothing I can do because my child is unique!
2. Try and understand the background
First of all remember that your child is a child, and doesn’t have the maturity and brain development to be able to handle things that don’t do their way, like an adult can. As they grow older and have more life experiences, maturity will develop. So do be patient with them.
Secondly, instead of reacting to your child, try and figure out why your child is behaving how they are.
- Are they hungry? (sometimes just a snack can solve all their problems!)
- Are they tired? (lack of sleep is a huge factor for a meltdown. And your child will never admit that they are sleepy, its just what their body needs! That’s why routine is very important for little ones, and ensure that they are getting atleast 12-13 hours of sleep everyday)
- Are they overstimulated? (when their friends are over, or you’re in a new place, or they’ve had a long day at the mall or even just too much screen time! Over stimulation could lead to a melt down)
- Are they uncomfortable? (physically – it could even be their clothes, or emotionally – they may be missing someone or not like the place they are in or they may just be feeling a lack of security)
If you can, change the situation, but if you can’t just figuring out why your child is reacting why they are, will help you be more patient and understanding.
3. Be calm!
This is one of the most important (but hardest!) thing you can do when your child is throwing a tantrum. It can be very embarrassing if they do it in public or can be frustrating and tiring when they are doing it all the time. Please don’t take it personally, your child doesn’t hate you. But try and step back and breath. Remember that you are the adult here! Don’t scream or hit your child. Even though this could stop the tantrum for the moment, it could have long term devastating effects on your child. As well as… you are doing the exact same thing your child is doing!
Talk calmly, firmly and lovingly to your child at this point. If possible take your child out of the situation they are in and sit down with them quietly. The emotion they are experiencing is not wrong. Once they calm down (you can try different things such as asking them to breathe slowly, count to ten, or even just let them finish expressing their frustration). Once its all out, hug them and reassure them of your love and acceptance (Many kids at this point are feeling guilty about their reaction). Then if they are ready, talk to them about what happened and why they did what they did and maybe how they can react better to a situation like that. You may be quite surprised at the solutions they come up with themselves!
4. Set rules and boundaries
Even though they may be frustrated and want to hit, scream, and throw things around, my kids know that they are not allowed to do certain things. My rules are ‘No hurting anyone when you are upset’, and ‘No throwing or spoiling anything around’. They are allowed to cry and express everything they are feeling though.
5. Don’t give in
Giving into a child’s demands when they throw a tantrum, just establishes the concept that they can get what they want by screaming. It’s the easiest thing to just buy them what they want or bribe them with a lollipop. But that’s not helping the child in the long run. Many children grow up and stop throwing toddler tantrums, but then learn more subtle ways of manipulating to get what they want. So when you’re holding firm and not giving in to their demands, remember that you are loving them even more!
But that having being said, don’t be rigid. Go back to point 2, understand why the child is throwing the tantrum. If they’ve had a long day, don’t be too rigid about them cleaning their room before they go to bed.
6. Pre-empt and prepare them for difficult situations
There are some situations where you know your child is more likely to throw a tantrum – for example a trip to the toy shop, when other kids come home, a visit to their grandparents home, a late night party or even just being told to put off the TV. Totally avoiding these situations is not possible. The answer is teaching them how to react during those times. Prepare them in advance, and ask them what they will do when the situation arises that they would normally throw a tantrum for. For example, if putting off the TV is the issue, before putting on the TV, explain to them very clearly that you are going to allow them to watch a particular program for 20 mins and as soon as Mummy tells you to put off the TV, you will do it immediately and without fussing. Remind them again 5 mins before the time is up, that their time is almost up and they need to get ready to put the TV off. I’ve found that when a child is prepared, they can handle their emotions a lot better. And then when situations suddenly come up that they may not be prepared for, they have already gotten used to not getting their way, that its much easier to handle those situations as well.
7. Spend time with them
There’s no shortcut to this one! I’ve realised that my children act out a lot more when they haven’t gotten quality time with both father and mother. So many times when my kids get into this zone of being difficult, I step back and try and evaluate the way I’m relating with them. Very often its during times when I’m busy with work or preoccupied with other things. I have to remind myself that my children are my priority and ensure that I’m giving each one some amount of individual time and attention.
Hope this helps. Remember the most important thing is that your child needs to be reassured of your unconditional love and commitment to them. And even if your child is in a difficult phase, don’t give up, persevere and keep doing the right thing because ‘This too will pass’!