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Temper tantrums in toddlers

Temper tantrums in toddlers

Heidi JanitBy Heidi Janit

You are standing in the queue at the shops waiting to pay for your groceries. Your toddler wants the doll she saw, you say No. Your toddler starts to scream and cry, she may even begin to stomp her feet and heaven forbid throw herself on the floor kicking and screaming, fellow shoppers are staring at you and some are even shaking their heads and you silently wish that the floor will open up and swallow you up whole. And there we have it – the good ol’ temper tantrum!

The definition of a temper tantrum is as follows: “A tantrum or temper tantrum is an emotional outbreak, usually associated with children or those in emotional distress, that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, defiance, angry ranting, a resistance to attempts at pacification and, in some cases, hitting. Physical control may be lost, the person may be unable to remain still, and even if the “goal” of the person is met he or she may not be calmed. A tantrum may be expressed in a titrade: a protracted, angry, or violent speech” – Wikipedia

Temper tantrums are very common, they are a normal part of development. I do not know of any child that has never had a temper tantrum. These tantrums are most common in children aged between 1- 4 years of age.

Why do these tantrums occur? The reason is very simple – it is a completely normal response when something or someone blocks a young child from learning a new skill, obtaining something he or she wants or gaining independence over a task.

The toddler years are very “I” orientated years. Toddlers want instant gratification – that is all they know. So to learn to wait and have patience is not easy at that young age. That is why you always hear “I want” from their little mouths. They are trying to gain mastery over their worlds. And when they cannot master something, they vent their frustration in the form of a big, bad temper tantrum.

The toddler years are very autonomous years – these young children are wanting to have a complete sense of control and independence over their environment. So when a child things to himself “I can do it” and he discovers that he cannot, a temper tantrum might follow!

Age plays a huge role in temper tantrums. A young child may feel that he has the ability to button up a top – just like dad does. Can you imagine how frustrated he becomes when he cannot manage this task on his own? And he has no understanding as to why he cannot do it. Of course we know that his fine motor co-ordination is not fully developed yet and there is no way he can manage – it is not an age-appropriate task.

Language development also plays a very important role. When we are tired or hungry or annoyed – we have the tools to express this through words. Toddlers do not have this yet – they are still acquiring language and are not fully able to communicate their needs yet. Can you imagine how frustrating it is not being able to express yourself. As your child grows and his language skills improve, temper tantrums generally become less and less.

How do we manage tantrums? Of course you want to scream and pull your hair out. Here are a few strategies on how to diffuse a tantrum as it starts:

1. Keep your own anger in check – try keep calm and speak to your child gently and with us much rationale as you can. Remember: you are not going to get anywhere if you are also shouting and screaming. Explain to your child that temper tantrums are not acceptable.

2. Try stick to the plans – any form of change can bring on a tantrum. If you have told your child that after shopping you are taking her to get an ice-cream – stick to your promise!

3. If you see a tantrum coming on, jump in and distract! Do something silly – pretend a banana is a phone,(you may feel really dumb but give it a try) getting your toddler to laugh diffuses the tantrum.

4. Create a diversion: Turn the focus to something else – take your child outside and look for birds in the trees or ask them to show you something that is “green” or “blue” etc

5.The power of touch – pick your child up and hold him close to you. Granted, if there is kicking involved it can be mighty difficult but the soothing feel of your heartbeat or your arms around him can be very calming.

6. Think back – did your child not eat today? Could he be thirsty or tired? Suggest having a nap with him on the bed or give him something to drink.

Finally, have faith! The temper tantrum years do not last forever 🙂