Most of us have been there either with our own child, a niece or nephew, little cousin or sibling, or a child you’re babysitting - temper tantrums! They can be distressful, embarrassing when in public, and at times hard to control. Temper tantrums can come in different forms and techniques, such as screaming, crying, hitting, stomping, throwing things, and refusing to move, whatever they are, it can be uncomfortable for the carer in that situation.
Although uncomfortable, when they occur every now and then, tantrums aren't a big deal and can be ignored as they are a normal part of developing for toddlers. It's when they increase in frequency and intensity and become overwhelming that parents and caregivers need to look into the root of them and find ways to stop them.
Some triggers for temper tantrums can include;
Not getting their way and testing to see if making noise or acting out will get them what they want
Asking to share something with a sibling or another child
Change of some sort, such as stopping what they are doing, like a game or TV show , especially if they are enjoying it
Hunger and fatigue can just exaggerate it
Inability to regulate their emotions and express what they want
So, giving the child what they want and letting them do what they want seems like the logical easiest answer - right? It will stop the trigger from occurring that’s causing them to start a temper tantrum… This is definitely a good idea for a quick fix to stop the tantrum in it’s track, but it is not viable for the future. The child will learn that going into tantrum mode will result in them getting what they want, and this will only get worse as they get older. Having some helpful strategies that will work in your favour in the long-run is important.
We have listed some strategies to help you manage and prevent temper tantrums more effectively:
Diffuse the temper tantrum: Keep yourself together and calm. Yelling and spanking the child will only worsen the tantrum as both emotions are high and it’s much harder to control someone else’s emotions when yours are not in control. Best thing to do is take a deep breath, get your frustrations out of the way, and begin to speak to your child in a calm but firm voice letting them know that this behaviour is not acceptable and it will not get them anywhere.
Ignore: If the tantrum is just a way to get your attention, or to see how you react to it - ignore them. If your child isn’t getting the response they want from their tantrum, they will eventually lessen it, until they get too tired to continue. This may be harder to put into action, especially when out in public, but it can teach the child that this is not the correct way to get attention.
Hold tightly until calm: In the instance the child is inconsolable and just won’t calm down no matter what you do, holding them tightly until they calm down can help. While doing so, let them know you love them but that the behaviour is not acceptable and they won’t get what they want by acting this way.
Child is rested and fed before an outing: As mentioned before, a tired and hungry child can be triggered into a tantrum easier
Bring something to occupy: A favourite toy or snack can keep the child occupied when you’re busy running errands
Be flexible: Pick your battles… what’s more important, letting your child have an extra chip or listening to them scream for another 45 minutes. Some things are just not worth the discipline if they aren’t so meaningful. Leave it for the things that will make a difference
Distraction: A good way to distract the child from having a temper tantrum or avoid having one is to move their attention to something else. It can be worth doing something funny or telling them a story when you start noticing their face becoming crinkly and their eyes watering
Teach them about emotion regulation: A child that is relatively familiar with emotions can learn to regulate them. You can teach them that there are other ways to express what they want without starting a tantrum, for example, using words instead of screaming. It’s also easier to calm a child down when they can self-regulate.
Praise: When the child has done a good job keeping calm at a trigger, remember to praise them and show them that this has not gone unnoticed and good behaviour can be rewarded.
Next time your child or the child you’re caring for has a temper tantrum, remember to take a step back, breathe first, because when both your emotions are heightened, it’s harder to calm the child down.
If you would like some support managing your child’s temper tantrums or provide support with emotion regulation, then give us a call to make an appointment with one of our team of Psychologists.