We’ve all been there. A day out shopping, and your child loses it and has a complete meltdown.
Tantrums are very common in children ages 1 to 3 years. At this point in their development, they do not understand reason. They want what they want and they feel what they feel.
A tantrum is how a young child displays protest. A child at this age is unable to use words accurately to express feelings so instead, they use their body, flailing arms and legs, screaming, and crying.
A guide to how to handle your child’s tantrum
It is important to understand that your child is in a stage of development where they have not developed the skills they need to control intense feelings. This is a process that develops over time in the brain and nervous system.
Tantrums can continue after ages 1-3 and that it’s important to deal calmly with them when they occur so your child learns what to expect from you and can rely on your not being out of control when they are.
With some guidance and practical strategies, Dr. Geizhals can help you decrease the number and intensity of tantrums.
The most important thing is to stay close (but not too close) to your child in order to make sure the child is not going to hurt themselves. If they are in a dangerous situation (i.e. in the middle of the road) pick them up and move them to a safe place. Then set the child down and give him or her space to finish the tantrum.
Do not stop the tantrum by force
Watch from a safe distance so the child knows you are there and concerned for them. Stay quiet and let the child calm down. When the child calms, maybe he or she is just whimpering, this is the time you can go over and give them a hug, and tell them good job for calming down after being upset.
After a few minutes, after the child has regained control you can ask them. What was wrong? What happened?
Usually, the child may say “Ice cream” or “Red ball” or whatever it is they wanted. You can continue the conversation. You can say things like “After dinner” or “it wasn’t yours”
Reward the child with something they like
Once the tantrum is over you can reward them for calming down. Have a special toy they like ready. Do not reward the child during the tantrum – you are not rewarding the tantrum. Wait until the tantrum is over. You are rewarding them for calming down.
Important things to remember during the tantrum
- Safety – get out of the road. Prevent the child from hitting or hurting anyone.
- Make yourself as calm as possible.
- Once the child’s breathing becomes heavy, this is your trigger that self-soothing has begun. Step in and say soothing, calming words.
- Once it’s over, give the toy, hug, and calmly discuss what happened.
- Having a routine is important for both of you.
- Every child has tantrums. Some tantrums are mild and easily handled. Others are severe and cause significant stress.
If your child’s tantrum is out of control, follow the same steps, only stronger
You must remain calm— extremely important.
Do not berate the child— he is already very hurt.
Do not argue with the child— he isn’t cogent at the moment.
Let the child learn his own coping mechanism.
Children who hold their breath will stop eventually— you don’t have to interfere. (They won’t die!)
While tantrums are typical of very young children, they can continue if the behavior is not handled appropriately. Even teenagers can throw tantrums if the issue is never addressed.
Help the child process
It is helpful to assist the child in processing their feelings and behavior. You can ask the child to tell you a story of the tantrum or draw a picture of it.
This should not be a long, drawn-out process, but it is helpful to acknowledge and talk about what happened.
Stay with the child until he feels better and goes off to play.
Understanding your own reaction
For some parents, child tantrums are extremely difficult. An inability to understand or handle what’s going on with their child can cause feelings of helplessness and frustration
If you feel as though your child’s tantrums are sending you “off the edge” you may need to find your own support. Often times our relationship with our children brings up issues that need to be healed in ourselves. The building blocks of emotion management emotions are developed (or not developed) in our early childhood years. If we did not have the care we needed in our own childhood, we may feel lost in how to help our children.
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