Many frazzled parents of toddlers live in fear of the same thing: witnessing a very public and very loud meltdown after telling the toddler “no.” Tantrums can be embarrassing to parents because they serve as a way for children to get what they want. In extreme cases, tantrums may result in injury to children who hit their heads, throw things, or injure themselves while pounding their fists.
Tantrums are a normal part of a child’s development, and most experts believe they occur when a child is old enough to have wishes of his or her own but not old enough to express those wishes in a socially acceptable way. Parents should take heart: your child is normal, and this too shall pass. However, parenting style greatly affects child behavior, and there are several things you can do to minimize and manage your child’s temper tantrums.
Two Types of Tantrums
Experts in child development often break tantrums into two categories: distress and control-based tantrums. Distress tantrums occur when a child is afraid, alone, in pain, hungry, or exhausted. They typically involve real tears. Control tantrums are attempts by children to get what they want by expressing anger. For example, a child might have a control tantrum when denied a toy at a store. Children throwing control tantrums don’t typically shed tears.manipulate you into doing something, it is important to gently demonstrate that manipulation will not work by using one of the following strategies.
Provide direction: If your child’s tantrum is just beginning, and you’re willing to satisfy the request being made, try redirecting the tantrum behavior by suggesting that he or she ask nicely, or in a different way. When your child calms down and asks in a more appropriate way, praise him or her and supply the item. This gives children a strong incentive to stop throwing tantrums.
Seek distraction: Many parents mistakenly believe that tantrums should be punished and that distracting a child who is having a tantrum does not teach self-control. The reality is different. Children have tantrums out of frustration and because they do not have good impulse control. Thus, distracting a child before he or she escalates into a full-fledged tantrum is one of the best things you can do to save your sanity. Point to an interesting picture, share an interesting item you have with you, or practice singing a song together.
Lower the volume: Parents tend to match their children’s volume level. If the child is screaming, the parent is likely to yell in response. Control your own behavior. Try whispering. This often causes children to be quiet just so they can hear. Moreover, calming yourself can help your child to calm down as well.
Don’t give in: Parents all know that they are not supposed to give in to a child’s tantrum, but most parents have caved at one time or another. If you give in to a control tantrum, even once, you teach your child that tantrums work, and that makes him or her more likely to throw an even bigger tantrum next time. No matter how embarrassed you are by your child’s behavior, don’t give in!
Walk away: Children often stop throwing tantrums when they no longer have an audience. Ensure that your child is safe and walk away. Make sure you can check back in, listen, or watch from another area. This strategy is among the most effective for ending truly violent tantrums.
- Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
- Kohn, A. (2006). Unconditional parenting: Moving from rewards and punishments to love and reason. New York, NY: Atria Books.
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