Let us face it, there is nothing parents dread more than those temper tantrums of their toddlers, especially when they happen in full public view. Think of a shopping mall or a birthday party where the child has put his hand on something you do not intend to give him or her, and you get the picture.
For younger children they could be just a way of expressing a need especialy since they do not have requisite language skills and result on account of mounting frustration on the need not being satisfied. For older ones, they could sometimes be a way to assert their newfound identity.
The important thing to remember is that temper tantrums are a part of growing up. While there may not be a foolproof way to prevent tantrums, there are enough and more ways to try and avoid their occurrence as well as to manage and respond to them. Here are some handy tips:
- Set a routine- Lack of enough sleep or disturbed meal patterns are enough to get adults cagey, not to speak of children. It is important therefore, that you keep to a regular schedule so that the child is upbeat and there are fewer chances of fatigue induced tantrums. Meticulous planning, therefore, is the key. If you know you have to take the child for an important chore- if you have an appointment at the passport office, for example, where there is likely to be a queue remember to carry enough snacks so that the child’s meal timings aren’t affected and hunger does not lead to a temper tantrum.
- Encourage your child to use words- Frustration at not being understood properly can be a trigger for temper tantrums. Depending on the age of the child, therefore, it is important that you encourage the child to put his feelings into words. Hungry, tired, hurt when added to the child’s vocabulary will go a long way in making life simpler.
- Allow choices- “ No” would perhaps be the most oft used word with toddlers. Fact is if we allow them to make their own choices instead of just telling them what not to do, it tends to reduce the frustration levels. Simple things like “ Do you want to eat strawberries or banana?” will give the child a sense of control and also lay the foundation for independent thinking for future. While on the subject, removing expensive things around the home which compel you to keep saying “ no” to the child when he wants to play is also a good way to keep both your and the child’s frustration levels at bay.
- Keep your expectations age appropriate- Frustration and hence temper tantrums also emanate from the fact that sometimes we expect too much from the child. Keeping expectations basis his or her capabilities will be a good way to not walk down frustration street yourself, as well as to not push the child that way.
- Encourage positive behavior- While we are quick to say “no” and express disapproval on negative behavior, we often forget to praise and hence reinforce good behavior. Saying “thank you” to the child or praising him or her for a work done well, can be a great parenting tool besides being a measure to reduce temper tantrums.
- Distraction- Distracting the child can also work as a proactive tantrum management tool especially when you can feel the onset of a tantrum. Removing the child from a particular setting that could lead to a tantrum (think of a large family dinner which raises the child’s excitement levels), can also work well.
While the above tips can help prevent a tantrum, what do you do when you find yourself in the midst of a full-blown tantrum?
- Above everything stay consistent- Setting firm limits on the child’s behavior and sticking by your decision is the number one aspect when it comes to managing tantrums. Imagine a situation where you say ‘no’ to a particular toy in the shopping mall and the child is on the floor wailing! Just to avoid the public stares and embarrassment, if you give in to the child’s wishes, not only are you confusing the child that a “no” can mean a “yes”, as he grows up you are also giving him or her the idea that a tantrum is what is needed to get one’s way.
- Ignore tantrums- In certain situations, ignoring the tantrum can work well. Depending upon the setting, you can choose to walk away from the child or station yourself some distance away from the child to be able to keep an eye while continuing to do your work.
This approach, however may not work well in cases where the tantrum escalates and the child becomes destructive. So what does one do in instances where the tantrum turns into a full-blown melt down? Consider the following approach:
- Time Out- Select a space for time out sessions when the tantrum escalates. Typically this could be a corner seat in a living room that is considered “” A good thumb rule to go by, when it comes to how long the time out should last, is to have one minute of time out for every year of the child’s age. This is not the time to have a discussion with the child so refrain from responding to anything the child says during the period.
- Follow up discussion- Post the time out, when the child has calmed down enough, is a good time to discuss his behavior and why he deserved the time out.
No matter how hard this may sound, do not lose your cool in the event of a tantrum. At least pretend to stay calm. Your anger or even reasoning while in the throes of a tantrum will not only make the situation worse, you will also land up passing on a message that tantrums mean complete attention!
The good news is that as the child gets older and gets better at handling his emotions, temper tantrums will continue to reduce. This is as long as you have not allowed tantrums to become a way for the child to get what he wants! By the time children reach the age of three and a half tantrums typically reduce. In the mean time, take heart in the fact that the child isn’t throwing tantrums to embarrass or frustrate you. They are, if anything, a means of communicating their unfulfilled wants.