Every parent has witnessed their child having a temper tantrum at one time or another. They are a normal part of development and happen most between the ages of 1 and 3 years of age. Temper tantrums are very common prior to and around the time of language development, as children that aren’t fully verbal cannot yet say what they want, feel or need. Tantrums can be an easy way for them to try to get what they need. They can be as short as 20 seconds or go on for hours. They may include: crying, screaming and yelling, stamping feet, rolling around on the floor and breath holding spells.
When to Not Ignore Your Child’s Temper Tantrum
- If your child is physically at risk of harming him or herself
- If your child is in danger of hurting someone else during a tantrum such as hitting, kicking or biting
How to Help your Child Avoid Tantrums
- Give plenty of positive reinforcement - Get in the habit of catching your child being good and reward them with praise and attention for positive behavior
- Try to give toddlers control over little things - Offer minor choices such as “Do you want this shirt or that shirt?” “Do you want an apple or banana?” This will allow your child to make choices but choices that you are okay with.
- Try to limit “No” - Keep off-limit objects out of sight and out of reach helping to make struggles less likely and also limiting the use of “No”. Make sure your child understands the importance of “No” and know that the more you use it, the less effective it becomes.
- Distract your child - Take advantage of their short attention span by offering something else in place of what they can’t have. Start a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one or take your toddler outside or inside to simply change the environment.
- Consider the request carefully when your child wants something - is it outrageous? Maybe it isn’t. Choose your battles.
- Know your child’s limits - When your toddler is tired or hungry, don’t take them grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand. It can also be a bad time to give kids a toy that is too advanced for them as they could get frustrated when they don’t understand why thaeycan’t get it to work.
Do’s and Don’ts During Tantrums
- DO stay calm - children learn by example! If you stay calm, your child is more likely to do the same. Get down on their level so you are eye to eye at arms distance and talk to them in a quiet, soothing voice. Empathize with them and let them know you hear them and understand why they’re upset. Calmly but firmly tell your child what to stop doing and what to do instead for example, “Anna, stop screaming right now and speak in a nice voice.” When he or she does as you asked, praise your child.
- DON’T give in - you don’t want to reward their behavior. If throwing temper tantrums leads to your child getting their way, get ready for tantrums to become a regular occurrence
- DO distract - getting your child to focus on something else might help them to soon forget why they were so upset in the first place
- DON’T overreact - try to understand why your child is frustrated. Take a deep breath (or several) and know that this too, will pass.
- DO set expectations - Before taking your child to a public place like a store or restaurant, talk to them about proper behavior. Try to give them 3 simple rules you’d like them to follow in the store or restaurant and if they do them, reward them with such things as an extra bedtime story.
- DON’T bribe your child - this is the same as giving in
- DO teach better ways - encourage your child to use words to describe their feelings. Keep in mind that giving rewards for good behaviors work much more effectively than punishing bad behavior.
- DON’T worry about what others are thinking - almost every parents have been through the same thing! Know that your child’s tantrum doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent.
What Do I Do if the Tantrum Happens in Public?
If a tantrum occurs in public, use planned ignoring if possible. If this is not possible, find a safe place to sit with your child such as a park bench and tell your child they must sit quietly. Wait beside your child (without talking) until they have been quiet for 30 seconds.
When Do I Set a Time Limit?
Rather than setting a specific time limit on how long your child needs to calm down, tell your child to stay in the room until he or she regains control. This will empower them to understand that they can affect the outcome by their own actions. However, if the time-out is for a tantrum PLUS a negative behavior (such as hitting), put your child in a 1 minute per year of age time-out.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Know that temper tantrums get better after the age of 3 although, they don’t go away entirely. As kids mature, they gain self-control and tantrums will usually stop on their own as they learn to cooperate, communicate and cope with frustration.
Contact Your Child’s Healthcare Provider If:
- You often feel angry or out of control when you respond to tantrums
- You keep giving in
- The tantrums cause a lot of bad feelings between you and your child
- You have questions about what you’re doing or what your child is doing
- The tantrums become more frequent, intense or last longer
- Your child often hurts themselves or others
- Your child seems very disagreeable, argues a lot and hardly ever cooperates