Dealing with Tantrums
August 7, 2016
Tantrums or the “terrible twos” are a very common part of your child’s development. Children are “young adults” who feel most of the same emotions that grownups do though they do not have the emotional advancement to deal with them. As they grow older they need to learn to deal with their emotions as well as physical activities such as feeding themselves.
Tantrums are an uncontrollable anger or frustration often characterized by crying, screaming, rolling on the floor and sometimes throwing things. They often happen between the ages of 1 and a half years (as is the case with my daughter) up to even 4 years. Some children grow out of tantrums quite quickly while others might take a bit longer. Children often have tantrums because they are unable to express themselves clearly due their undeveloped language skills. This therefore, leads to frustration and in turn an outburst of emotions.
Tantrums are bound to happen but the frequency can be reduced if you:
- Create a routine for your child and stick to it – Most tantrums are caused by hunger, exhaustion and frustration. If you stick to your child’s meal and nap times you are bound to avoid an outburst.
- Pay attention to your child’s needs – Despite their undeveloped language skills children are still smart and they will try to express their needs the best way they know how. For example, they could pull your hand to the kitchen to show that they are hungry or thirsty which is what my daughter does; They could point to a toy on the shelf to show that they want to play with it; or they could even be pulling on their clothes or shoe to show that they are uncomfortable which could mean that it is wet or too tight among other things.
To help your child express themselves you could try having specific places to put items you often use. For example you could place his/her sippy cup on the table a good distance where s/he can see it but can’t reach it and possibly pour it; or place his/her toys in the same reachable place.
- Avoid tantrum triggers – Keep items which often lead to a tantrum out of sight from your child. For example, cookies before meal times or breakable and harmful items which you are bound to fight over with your child. First time parents might also find themselves buying toys which are meant for older kids and this could also make your child feel frustrated and cause an outburst. If you notice this, keep the toy away until your child is old enough to play with it.
- Keep your child active with games, songs, cartoons and activities which are bound to keep their spirits up and help burn out any excess energy.
- Give your child some control over their lives within reasonable limits – Let your child choose simple things like “will you like to bathe now or at 4 pm?” “Will you like spinach or Sukuma wiki (kale) for supper?” These simple choices helps them feel like they are still in control of their lives. Though this only works for older children.
- Avoid saying “No” for everything – If your child asks for something listen first to their request and then respond within reason. As a parent it is important that every action and reaction you make with regards to your child’s life is deliberate and with their best interest at heart. If you say “No” without listening it could lead to a situation where you find yourself saying “Yes” after a tantrum which will show them that they need to cause a tantrum when they want anything. In addition, if you make the habit of always saying “No” in future your child might opt not to come to you with anything and just do things behind your back. Remember that childhood experiences often set the foundation for who we become in future.
- Learn to notice a tantrum as it begins and try to distract your child with a song, game, cartoon or even a toy – Children have a short attention span hence a distraction could help them forget that they were about to have a meltdown in the first place. However, this might not work with all children. You might find that once the cartoons or songs are over some children just pick up from where they left off kicking and screaming hence this tactic just prolonged/postponed the inevitable. Therefore, it is important to understand your child and see if this might work for you or if it will be easier to just “ride the storm” so to speak and let the tantrum pass.
Dealing With Tantrums
It is possible to minimize the frequency of a tantrum, however, it might not be possible to completely eliminate a tantrum. Therefore, should a tantrum occur here is a few tips on how to deal with it:
- Keep your child safe first – Your first priority should be to make sure that your child does not hurt him/herself. You can let them role around on the floor but make sure there are no harmful objects near them. Also you can hold on to them and gently lay them down on the floor to prevent them from hurting themselves when they throw themselves down on the floor.
If your child is in a place surrounded by harmful items, you will have to hold on to them as the tantrum passes to keep them form hurting themselves. This might not sit well with some children and it could prolong the tantrum but it is worth it for the sake of their safety. They will soon calm down.
- Calm yourself – It’s important to keep calm to prevent a shouting match with your child and/or prevent you from making a decision out of emotions. Remember as a parent your actions and reactions should always be deliberate. Therefore, you can breathe in an out as you count 1 to 10 in your head or you could repeat “Relax” or “Stay calm” in your mind to keep you calm. This is especially useful if you are in a public place and are beginning to feel embarrassed; and remember every parent goes through this.
- Let it pass – When your child is having a tantrum or an emotional meltdown they are beyond reason. The best thing to do is ignore them (while keeping an eye on them to ensure their safe) and let it pass. They will soon calm down. Do not punish them or reward them for the meltdown but rather show them that it changes nothing and stand your ground.
- Change your child’s environment – If your child is in a stressful environment it won’t hurt to take them out for a few minutes to given them room to calm down. For example, if you have just finished your child’s doctor appointment your companion could walk around outside with him/her as you finish up with the doctor.
- A hug could help – Hugging your child (especially younger children) lets them know that you still love them and gives them a sense of security. You don’t have to say anything during this moment but just hug them and rub their back if they let you. If not, don’t force it, give them their space and let them be.
- Deal with the underlying problem – Find out the root cause of your child’s outburst and deal with it. For example, if it is food then feed them; if they are sleepy put them to bed. It is important to find out the root cause of a tantrum to help solve your child’s frustration as well as help prevent another one in future.
- Talk it over – Once your child has calmed down if possible talk over your decision with them and their reaction bearing in mind that your child only wants to be heard. This helps them know their feelings matter and that you still love them and are only looking out for them. It also help create trust between you and your child.
- Respect your child’s feelings – It is important to note that some events might be difficult for your child such as the first day of school and this is normal. You can sit with them through the first few minutes of class though make it clear that this is only for that one time. You can also agree earlier that if they behave you will give them a nice treat afterwards. For example, “if you sit through 3 hours of church without fussing I will make you some chocolate milk when we get home”. In this scenario when they do begin to act up you should remind them about your agreement. However, don’t make a habit of this as it could create the expectation that they should always get a reward to do anything.
- Talk this over with your spouse or other trusted parent – to stay “sane” after a tantrum filled day it helps to talk it over with your spouse or a trusted parent. Knowing you are not alone helps to give you the strength to deal with the next tantrum.
Tantrums are a common stage in every child’s development and sometimes they just need to get their anger and frustration out. It’s like having a long day in the office and needing to scream into a pillow to calm yourself down. Hence, children are like “tiny adults” learning to control their emotions as they grow so stay calm and bear in mind that this phase shall soon pass.