A tantrum occurs when a child is tired, hungry or frustrated about something. It is common with toddlers as their limited language skills do not allow easy expression of needs and emotions, raising the chances of a tantrum. During a tantrum, a child’s frontal cortex of the brain–the area that makes decisions and judgments–is taken over by emotions, says Jay Hoecker, MD, a Rochester, Minnesota, pediatrician. So don’t try to reason at that moment. Instead you could follow these steps to prevent a tantrum in the first place.
- Make a routine for everything, from meals to nap time.
- Ensure there is some fun and relaxed time during the day as well.
- Let your toddler burn off that energy in a park.
- Allow your child some choice and decision making power in clothes, food and play. Be flexible. A “no” all day is bound to have consequences.
- Keep an eye on frustration levels so you can distract your child before it escalates into a tantrum.
- Set rules on behaviour. Let your child know how you expect them to behave in various situations. Praise their good behaviour.
- Set a good example by generally handling stress calmly.
If however, the tantrum still has descended, you have to deal with it. Try the following:
- Ignore him/her
The more attention you give to the tantrum, the longer it is likely to continue and the higher the likelihood of you losing your cool. So, walk into another room after ensuring your child is safe. Mentally countdown or do some chores to distract yourself. Soon enough, he/she will arrive for a cuddle.
- Let them vent
Sometimes a child just needs to cry or scream out his/her frustration. Even adults vent at times. Children just have the liberty of being more dramatic. But rest assured that after every storm there is an inevitable calm.
- Help them cope
If ignoring hasn’t helped, start a countdown. Tell your toddler to stop by the count of ten. You can ask him/her to take a break from the situation that is frustrating them. Provide a way to get the anger out through other means such as doing jumping jacks or drawing. You have to be creative as the same trick may not work every time.
- Be calm
Let your child know you are there for him/her. If you are upset, he/she might catch on and amp up his/her tantrum. So stay calm and make eye contact. If possible, give him/her a tight hug or a kiss.
- Encourage expression
Sometimes children just don’t know how to express their frustration in words even when there is no language barrier. Hear them out and empathise. Offer words that describe their emotions. For example, “I’m angry because I have to clean the room while my friends are playing.” The chore will not go away but it will diffuse the situation.
- Address their basic need
Sometimes it’s just low energy levels that instigate a temper tantrum. Offer a snack or sweets. Even a nap may work wonders.
You may be super excited about a fancy dinner outside. But it can, for instance, get drastically boring for a child to sit through a long meal. So offer an incentive for good behaviour at dinner. Do not make a deal under duress. Make it on it your terms and ahead of time. Give a gentle reminder if the child starts to fidget during the meal.
- Plan ahead
Identify situations that are likely to upset your child. Transition periods or unfamiliar environment can especially make a child uncomfortable. Let them know what to expect and how he/she can deal with it.
- Get away from the situation
If your child has fixated on a candy or a toy in the supermarket and has flattened himself/herself on the floor until all demands are met, pick him/her up and walk out. Sometimes, that is the best solution.
Once your child starts understanding his/her own emotions and learns to control them, tantrums will become a thing of past. Until then, take a deep breath.