We’ve all seen it happen, whether it be with our kid or somebody else’s. We’re standing in line ready to pay at the supermarket, and a nearby toddler just loses it. They throw themselves on the ground, they scream, and nobody really knows what to do. Everybody around feels a little uncomfortable, from complete strangers to the parent, and more than anyone, the child.
Dealing with tantrums can be tough, but it’s really important to understand why they happen first. Once we know why this behavior shows up, understanding how to deal with it and prevent it starts to make a lot more sense.
Chances are that most of us have thrown a tantrum of some scale well past our toddler years, and that’s because tantrums are normally simply an outlet of frustration or anger when we can’t find the words or ideas to properly express what we’re feeling. We get really upset, and not being able to really explain what we’re feeling makes us even more upset. Now, imagine that same feeling, but you have the vocabulary and emotional intelligence of a toddler.
Suddenly, tantrums don’t seem as arbitrary and irrational, do they? Truthfully, they really aren’t. Especially if they’re at toddler age, your child does not have a firm grasp on how the world works, nor do they have the ability to communicate their frustrations that come with this. Crying and acting out becomes the only option, naturally. As with any and all of us, being tired, hungry, or feeling under the weather for any reason at all will make your toddler’s tolerance run lower, and tantrums more likely to happen.
Along with all of this, it’s important to remember that toddlers don’t want to have tantrums! It isn’t some diabolical plan to embarrass you in public! If you don’t handle tantrums appropriately, however, tantrums can become learned behavior that your kid uses to get your attention, or to get what they want. It’s important to know, then, how to respond to a tantrum and, perhaps more importantly, how to prevent one altogether.
Micromanaging every aspect of your child’s life isn’t the right path to take, especially as they start to get older, but there are multiple simple and key things to keep in mind in your everyday routine that can help avoid tantrums altogether, as much as possible.
While it isn’t exactly your fault that your child gets frustrated, it is within your power to avoid frustrating situations at least some of the times. Think, for example, of the last time your toddler, or some other toddler you know or witnessed, threw a tantrum. Chances are it wasn’t out of the blue, there was probably some kind of catalyst, whether it was an external one (a toy they wanted at the store) or an internal one (being hungry). If you know that a specific situation stresses your kid out, you can try avoiding the situation to avoid the tantrum. Try staying away from the toy aisle when you don’t intend on buying a toy. Try to keep small, healthy snacks on you when you’re outside of the house. It’s important that these tools be used to prevent tantrums and not necessarily to calm a tantrum down. You want to avoid a tantrum, not teach your kid that acting out is how they get a new toy, or a snack.
Beyond this, communication is paramount. Establish and communicate a routine so that your kid isn’t caught off guard by everyday tasks, be especially praiseful of good behavior, and communicate that bad behavior isn’t how we fix things. Teach your kid to be able to communicate what they want or need, especially if language is still a bit of an obstacle. If your kid has a way of telling you that they’re tired or hungry, it won’t be a mystery when they act out because of it.
Dealing with a Tantrum
Of course, tantrums aren’t 100% preventable. We’re as human as our children, and emotions get the best of us from time to time. If a tantrum does happen, the best thing to do is to avoid communicating that your child will get anything out of it, and the best way to do this is to ignore it as much as possible. Once your kid tires out, you can communicate to them that tantrums aren’t how we work things out, and try to establish how you’d like communication to happen.
Sometimes, of course, ignoring your child isn’t feasible. If you’re out in public, and especially if your toddler gets aggressive or destructive during tantrums, just leaving them be might cause some harm. In these cases, holding your child until they calm down or taking them to another, more private place can be the best thing to do. Put them on timeout if necessary. If you need to take them out of the situation for them to calm down, however, it’s important to communicate with them afterwards and go right back to whatever task you were doing. Otherwise, they can learn that tantrums are a way to get out of an uncomfortable situation.
All in all, the most important thing is to make an effort to understand why your child is acting out and communicating to them how we’d like feelings and discomfort to be handled. Always reward good behavior, and try to prevent bad behavior rather than curb it after the fact.
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