Toddlers and tantrums – they just seem to go together, If you have a Toddler, you will undoubtedly have temper tantrums from time to time. Tantrums can be infuriating, frustrating and embarrassing for parents. What should you do when your child throws a temper tantrum? First, it helps to know what’s causing the tantrum. Then you can act accordingly.
There are many different reasons for tantrums in young children, but they usually fall into one of 3 categories :
- The ‘Needs’ Tantrum – he’s either hungry, tired, or has an unmet emotional expectation
- The ‘Overload’ Tantrum – he’s either overstimulated or has been given too many choices
- The ‘Demand’ Tantrum – Toddlers use this tantrum to get what they want and get it fast – because they’ve learned that it works!
When you see the tantrum brewing, take a few minutes and assess the situation first – where do you think this tantrum is coming from? Then act accordingly.
The ‘Needs’ Tantrum
If you know that your child is probably hungry or tired, then get him some food or rest- fast! Don’t try to correct this type of tantrum – they can’t help it! Toddlers are often having so much fun that they don’t even realize how hungry or tired they are until it hits them like a brick. In this situation, a distraction may be all that is needed until you can get them fed our out of there. Instead of a reprimand, make noises, sing a song, or say, “Look, let’s go see what’s happening over there.”
With unmet expectations – do your best to follow through with your plans. When your little one is expecting something to happen and it doesn’t, it’s REALLY disappointing. Unmet expectations let everyone down – adults too. Understand that your child will likely act out when he’s disappointed, but Toddlers have to learn that tantrums – no matter the reason – are not appropriate. Life happens, plans change, and disappointment is something we all must learn to deal with. This is a good time to show some empathy. Let your child have his feelings without thinking you need to prevent or change them. Say, “I know you’re upset that we didn’t get to stop at the park, I would be upset too.” With some children, it helps to hold them and comfort them when they’re having a tantrum. Other children don’t want to be held or touched. In that case, you might just want to sit close and simply give emotional support without saying anything.
The ‘Overload’ Tantrum
If your child is on overload, he needs out and away from the stimulus. Get your toddler out of the situation and take him someplace quiet. Go outside and let him regain control. Stay by his side in case he needs you, and refrain from saying anything other than, “When you calm down, we can go back inside.” Only say this about once every minute in a calm, quiet voice. Other than that one phrase, DO NOT TALK. Your child is already on overload. If your child advances to the kicking and hitting stage, put him down someplace out of the way, and let him go ballistic. If he tries to hit you, take his arms or legs and say, “No”. Let go and step aside. When he begins to wind down (which could take a good 10-15 minutes) and you see the rage begin to quiet, give him some reassurance and comfort. Offer a hug and then go back inside. If he doesn’t stop in 10-15 minutes, figure out the best way to safely pick him up, and leave. Most kids can’t sustain the violent kicking and hitting for very long, their muscles wear out. But they can go limp and keep screaming. The bottom line is you’re the adult and you’re bigger than he is. Use good judgment, but do your best to get him in a car seat and be on your way.
Overload tantrums will also creep up if a child is presented with too many choices. Two and three-year-olds do not need, nor can they handle, more than two choices for any given activity or want. If you put him in situation after situation in which he’s faced with too many choices, you’re asking for overload. If you’ve offered two choices and your toddler throws a tantrum because he thinks he wants more choices it actually means he needs fewer choices and more limits. When a toddler gets out of control, you choose for him. Period. You are the adult and you know what your child needs. It’s okay to say no to your child, and it’s also okay for your child to be angry. Say, “I know you’re angry, and that’s okay. You wish you could have what you want. I’d probably feel the same way.” Then wait or redirect.
The ‘Demand’ Tantrum
Demand tantrums are characterized by yelling, crying, screaming, hitting, pushing, kicking, biting, thrashing about or any attempt to get away from you when they don’t get their way. Toddlers need to be allowed to feel angry or upset, but violence and screaming are absolutely not acceptable. With the first stomp of a Demand Tantrum, you MUST take control. Separate your child from the source of the demand and give him absolutely no attention. If your child is playing and starts to throw a tantrum because it’s time to eat, take him away from the toys, and put him in an established spot (a chair, a step, a quiet place) and give him the exact opposite of the demand – in this case, to continue playing. If you’re trying to put on his shoes for a trip to the park and he begins to throw a fit, tell him “Put on your shoes, or no park.” If he does not cooperate, then no park! DO NOT make idle threats, here. Be prepared to follow through with your consequence. Toddlers have an excellent memory for what works. Give him the exact opposite of his demands, and he will learn very quickly that throwing a fit to get his way does NOT work. Once the tantrum is over and your child has calmed down, you can talk with him about how he might find a better way to deal with a similar problem in the future.
Having a Toddler means you’re going to have temper tantrums from time to time – it’s just part of the developmental process. Have faith in your child that he will eventually learn how to deal with his feelings. Don’t give in to the tantrums—and don’t try to please your child in the middle of a tantrum. Be consistent and remember that your toddler has a very good memory for what works.