Recently, in many of my parent groups and private sessions, tantrums seem to be the topic of choice. Tantruming is not new to childhood but it seems that every day an expert has a new way to end your child’s tantrums. I say stick with the tried and true…
Before your child tantrums, think about what sets them off. Why does he or she tantrum? Think about where your child is developmentally. Is your 3 year old having a tantrum because you won’t give him something he wants? Is your 19 month old tantruming because she’s lost control of herself?
When a toddler has a tantrum it is often because they are melting down, tired, or hungry. Whatever the cause, a toddler does not have the tools to calm their bodies and regain control on their own. They need you. At this age I recommend that you sit on the floor next your child, tell them you see they are having a hard time and that you are going to help them calm down. Some like to be held, others do not want to be touched. You can ask your child what they prefer, or just try what you think might work and see what happens. To be clear, this doesn’t mean to give in if the child is demanding something, it just means that you are giving your child what they need. Something, at that moment, that a toddler can not do for themselves.
As your child gets older, think about their temperament and try these techniques:
Reflect your child’s emotions. Bend down so that you are level with their eyes. Try saying, “You are so mad (fill in the emotions) right now. I know you really wanted that 5th scoop of ice cream but you may not have it. I understand that makes you feel angry and sad.” Then move on. Give your child a choice, should we play with blocks next or take out the crayons.
Give positive alternatives. Explain to your child that banging that block on his infant brother’s head is not a choice, but he can bang the block on another block, or play the drums if he feels like banging. Remind your child that banging on another person’s body is not safe. Ask, “where do you think is a safe place to bang?”
Keep it light. Use a little humor to diffuse the situation. When your child is begging you not to go out to dinner, remind them that you have to come home to sleep in your bed. Ask them “Can grown-ups sleep in a restaurant? A car? On the table? No! How silly! Grown-ups have to come home to sleep in their beds.” We even use this idea during the separation process at school. When your child is having one of those delightful moaning tantrums, reflect their feelings and be silly. “You are so mad, I wonder if you can stamp your feet as loud as I can.”
Ignore it. There are times when a child begins to have a tantrum, that the best thing you can do is simply ignore it. Check in to be sure your child is safe, but keep yourself out of the tantrum. If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to see it…
Remove them from the situation. This idea can be interpreted in two ways. For some children, having a conversation with their grown-up while being distracted by the item they want, the child who has it, or something else that is happening in the environment, is just too much. For these children, removing them from the situation can mean going into the next room to work through the tantrum in a quieter place. That being said, sometimes there is no other option than to remove your child from the situation entirely. If your child has gone past the point of no return, leaving will often give them the opportunity calm their bodies in a less stimulating environment and help them understand that their behavior is unacceptable.
Deciding how to deal with tantrums has a lot to do with your child’s temperament. I say this often: Parents know their children best. Think about your child and the way they handle different situations. Children give us a lot of information every day, from whether they need to be prepared for something new a week before or an hour before, to how to handle their tantrums. When a tantrum begins, assess the situation, decide on a technique, and set the limit. Do not tolerate unacceptable behavior. The consistency in your reactions to tantrums, as with any other behavior, will help your children develop their ability to regulate their own emotions and behaviors. You can do this!
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