Tantrums are a normal part of growing up. Most children will outgrow them by age 4 or 5. Until then, you can develop strategies to reduce the number of outbursts and manage the meltdowns already underway.
Here are techniques that’ll work in your living room or at the supermarket to tame the tantrum and preserve your sanity.
1. Understand why tantrums happen. It’s easier to deal with tantrums if you know what’s causing them. Small children have limited vocabularies so frustration is natural when they try to communicate with words. Other common triggers include hunger or exhaustion, wanting things they can’t have, or over-excitement.
2. Help your child develop their communication skills. Parents can accelerate children’s verbal progress to minimize communication breakdowns. Invite your child to ask for what they want instead of anticipating their needs.
• Make it a game for your child to ask for a bedtime story.
• Some parents have been successful teaching their toddlers gestures to indicate wants such as tired, hunger, or thirst. These gestures may help reduce frustration and make developing verbal skills easier.
3. Focus on the positive. Reward the behavior you want to encourage in your child. Listen patiently and praise them when they try to speak clearly. Show your approval when they share their toys.
4. Establish consistent routines. Sticking to bedtimes and other rituals will help your child to know what to expect. Many struggles can be avoided when your child knows the limits and develops good habits.
5. Enlist your child’s cooperation. Toddlers are developing a sense of independence that they’ll need later in life. Work together to give them a sense of control. Let them choose what to wear or the destination for your afternoon outing.
6. Lighten up. Humor can defuse tension. If you sense a meltdown approaching, provide a distraction like making a silly face.
Managing Tantrums at Home
1. Childproof your home. Prepare for possible tantrums by putting potentially dangerous or valuable objects out of harm’s way.
2. Ignore it. Declining to pay attention to a tantrum is often the best strategy. Most children will learn that they have to take a different approach to get your attention. Keep your child in view to avoid injuries, but carry on with what you’re doing.
3. Take mutual time-outs. Sit your child down in a boring, but safe spot. Parents may also benefit from taking a break if emotions are running high.
4. Address major episodes. You may need to intervene during severe flare-ups. Make eye contact, speak calmly, and try to hold your child tight. If tantrums persist after the age of 5 or if you have difficulty coping, speak with your doctor to rule out more serious issues and to get additional tips.
Managing Tantrums in Public
1. Be a good role model. You can minimize the drama by staying calm yourself. Put aside your own feelings of embarrassment or anger to deal with the situation.
• If you’re selective about where you go, you can often use the same strategy of ignoring relatively minor outbursts. Family restaurants are sensitive to providing fast service and keeping kids entertained. Plus, the noise will feel less disruptive than it would in a more hushed setting.
2. Use distractions. Plan ahead if you know that it will be a challenge to keep your child occupied during a long day of errands. A bag of toys and books can help keep them amused.
3. Go home. Sometimes you just need to take your child and go home. It can still be a learning experience if you talk about it afterwards. Help your child feel excited about trying a different approach the next time.
The toddler years are a wonderful time when your child makes many developmental leaps. Learn to prevent and manage tantrums, so you and your child can delight in their progress through life.