Temper tantrums: coping with your children’s emotions

Temper tantrums. Just the thought of one is enough to make you cringe.

Has your child suddenly changed from a cheerful, sweet-mannered, cooperative toddler to a stubborn and angry child, twisting, turning, opposing you in what you thought was a very simple matter, like putting on a sweater or getting into the stroller for a fun walk? Temper tantrums. Just the thought of one is enough to make you cringe. Most parents agree that there is nothing like dealing with a kicking, screaming child. It can bring out the worst in all of us and they are always difficult to handle.

Article courtesy of Sinews by author: Itxaso Cembrero

Why do children have temper tantrums? What sets them off?

Tantrums are the expression of a young child’s frustration with the challenges of the moment, and are equally common in boys and girls. Children tantrum for three basic reasons: To communicate, to gain control, or to release emotional energy. They are a way of dealing with frustration and disappointment, and also a form of establishing some independence. They often occur in response to unmet needs or desires. The child may not yet have the skills to express anger and frustration in other ways. For example, a temper tantrum may happen when a child becomes frustrated while trying to button a shirt or is told it’s time for bed when he or she wants to stay up.
Some children are more likely to have temper tantrums than other children. Things that might make a tantrum more likely are: how tired a child is, the child’s age, the child’s level of stress, and whether the child has other physical, mental, or emotional problems.
Parent’s behaviour also matters. A child may be more likely to have temper tantrums if parents react too strongly to poor behaviour or give in to the child’s demands.
Tantrums typically appear at age two or three and start to decline by four, and 23% to 83% of all two- to four-year-olds have occasional temper tantrums.
Coming in a great variety of shapes and sizes, temper tantrums can range from fits of screaming and uncontrollable crying, to great explosions of kicking, hitting, and breath holding behaviour. Temper tantrums, although normal, can become upsetting to teachers and parents because they are embarrassing, challenging, and difficult to manage. On the other hand, temper tantrums can become special problems when they occur with greater frequency, intensity, and duration than is typical for the age of the child.

How can we manage these tantrums?

An important thing to keep in mind is that your child is not throwing a tantrum simply to annoy you; in fact, your child is probably just as distressed and stressed as you are, except they just aren’t as good at containing and understanding these negative emotions. Toddlers have tantrums because they’re frustrated or overwhelmed, not because they want to make you crazy! Understanding the underlying cause can help you both get through a tantrum.
Shouting at, or hitting your child will only make the situation worse. A quiet, peaceful response and atmosphere, without “giving in” or breaking the rule that you just set, will reduce stress and make both of you feel better. However, some children do have a lower tolerance for frustration and sometimes parents and their children need a little help. Ignoring the tantrums and helping a young child learn how to deal with anger and frustration are often good ways to deal with tantrums. Pay attention to what starts the tantrums. Knowing what triggers the tantrums can help you act before your child’s emotions get past the point where he or she can control them.
Most children will grow out of having temper tantrums. With time, most children learn healthy ways to handle the strong emotions that can lead to tantrums.
Children who still have tantrums after the age of 4 may need help learning to deal with anger. If tantrums continue or start during the school years, they may be a sign of other issues, such as learning problems or trouble getting along with other children.
Once you recognize that your child’s temper tantrums are normal, even necessary, it will be easier for you to respond because you won’t feel that your child is attacking you personally. You won’t feel like a failure. More important, you will be able to hang in there with him, instead of striking out or becoming frustrated and turning away. If you keep in mind that tantrums are a part of normal development, you yourself will be less confused and angry at those difficult moments. If you keep thinking that a tantrum is a natural overflow of feelings and not just a rebellion against you, you can stay calm.
Little kids sure can create big scenes! No matter how sweet your child is or how good a parent you are, meltdowns are a fact of toddler life. So, how parents respond is critical in tantrum management. Parents can learn to calm themselves, state clear rules, notice and compliment appropriate behaviour, and teach understanding and empathy.

Here are some tips:

Remain calm enough to handle the tantrum properly.
Remember that your child’s tantrum is NOT necessarily a way to “get his way”, but could be the result of frustration, lack of needed attention from you, or even a physical problem, like low blood sugar, pain or digestive problems!
Offer your child a choice of coping strategies.
Stem your own rising frustration level.
Try to determine the cause of the tantrum.
Do not reward the tantrum.
Take steps to prevent injury.
Explain to the child that you will talk to him or her only when he or she calms down.
Avoid trying to reason with any child who is in the middle of a full-blown tantrum, especially in a public place.
Discuss the behaviour with your child once the tantrum has ended.

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