If you have a small child in your family, chances are you have found yourself dealing with toddler tantrums on a regular basis.
Tantrums arise because children of this age experience powerful emotions, such as anger and frustration – but don’t yet have the ability to manage or control them.
So instead, they yell, they scream, they hit, they kick, they bite. We’ve all seen a toddler throwing a tantrum at the shops – lying on the floor, thrashing about, and screaming at the top of their lungs.
Meanwhile their embarrassed parent struggles to calm their youngster, often while other people walk past tutting their disapproval!
Toddler Tantrums: what not to do
Unfortunately, the tendency is to punish small children for displaying anger, which only serves to compound the problem.
Other parents teach their child to stifle their feelings, and repress their anger – which in the long run, is doing them a disfavour.
Still others employ the tactic of telling their child to take out their anger on their pillow, by punching or screaming into it. However research now tells us that this only fuels the adrenaline rush that is behind the anger, and does not help to calm the child.
So how can we prevent tantrums – and if they do occur, encourage our child to express anger in a more appropriate manner?
Preventing and Managing Tantrums
Providing a sense of routine and order can help with preventing temper tantrums, as can making sure that your child is not over-tired, or “hangry” (hungry/angry).
However when your child does erupt in anger, here are some tips to try:
- Help your child to put a name to this emotion. Explain to them, “I can see you’re feeling angry”. Learning to recognise their anger is the first step in learning to manage it more appropriately.
- Don’t dismiss your child’s anger; instead encourage them to talk about what is making them angry, and respond calmly and with empathy.
- For a different variation on “time-out” – change the focus and the mood by asking your child to sit in their time out place, but instead of asking them to think about what they’ve done wrong, and learn a lesson from it – which is beyond their cognitive capabilities – instead focus on another activity while you are close by. It can be something simple such as drawing a picture, leafing through a book, or making something in play dough. Some parents worry that this is rewarding the tantrum, however, it teaches your child to work through their emotions. Traditional time-out means that your child is left to deal with their violent and often frightening feelings alone, something they are ill equipped to do.
- Mindfulness and breathing techniques can help bring calm – find out more in my article Understanding Mindfulness. One technique you might like to try with your child is a body scan – you can find out more, here: https://www.mindful.org/body-scan-kids/.
- Try a warm bath – a soak in the tub doesn’t just soak away the anger and stress of adults, but can be equally calming for youngsters too!
Although you are teaching your child to deal with their emotions, in the hope that they will grow up to be a well-rounded and adjusted individual, these skills are important to facilitate your child’s social interactions right now – with family, teachers and peers.
If you are struggling to deal with your child’s tantrums or outbreaks of anger, despite your best efforts, please make an appointment to see me. My goal is to help you not only better understand your child’s behaviour, but equip you with strategies to manage them more effectively; I can also help your child through play therapy.
Author: Shokria Siddiqui, BSc.Psych, PGDipPsych, PGDipMH, MPsych, MAPS.
Shokria Siddiqui is a Brisbane Psychologist working with all ages, however she has a particular interest in children and adolescents. By implementing evidence-based therapies that have been scientifically tested, building rapport with her clients, and creating a safe therapeutic space, Shokria helps her clients and their families to better meet life’s challenges.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Shokria Siddiqui, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or or Online Booking – Loganholme, or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on(07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.
- http://developingchild.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/2004/04/Childrens-Emotional-Development-Is-Built-into-the-Architecture-of-Their-Brains.pdf (viewed 22.01.18)
- https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199907/nonviolent-venting (viewed 22.01.18)