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Defusing Temper Tantrums: How to Help When a Toddler Tantrum is in Full Swing

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what level of education you received—there is something about watching a toddler go into full meltdown mode (perhaps due to the fact that you cut the crust off his peanut butter and jelly sandwich…BECAUSE HE ASKED YOU TO CUT OFF THE CRUST OF HIS PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH) that can send your blood pressure through the roof and your temper into the stratosphere.

Don’t worry…you aren’t alone, and tantrums are not a sign of poor parenting. Tantrums are a normal part of child development. In fact, up to 83% of 2 – 4 year old children have occasional temper tantrums.

Today, we’ll discuss why tantrums happen and steps to help you keep your cool when your child seems to lose control.

What Causes Temper Tantrums?

Temper tantrums can baffle parents because they often seem to occur out of the blue. An activity that was fun yesterday is meltdown inducing today. The presentation of a favorite snack suddenly results in the gnashing of teeth and a fit of rage. Perhaps the time to leave on the car trip you’ve mentioned five times over the past hour arrives and your sweet babe, who nodded in agreement every time you suggested riding in the car without getting upset, has just collapsed into a puddle of revolt and fury.

For many parents it is incredibly frustrating because it feels so irrational.

And tantrums feel irrational because they are exactly that—a response to a situation that is utterly void of reason and logic.

This is due to the fact that most children throwing tantrums are in 2 – 3-year-old range. At this age toddlers are beginning to develop an understanding of self—of knowing what they want (or absolutely do not want)—but have yet to develop the language skills to effectively communicate.

Our role, as parents or caregivers, is to recognise the behavior would be irrational for an adult but is perfectly normal for toddlers. It is then our responsibility to teach children the proper way to respond to anger, disappointment, or frustration.

Tips for Defusing a Tantrum

1. Model Proper Behavior

There’s no time like the middle of a tantrum to model the proper way to react to anger. Communicate with your child to tell them how their tantrum makes you feel:

“You must be very angry to throw your milk on the floor. Seeing this mess makes me angry, too, so I am going to sit at the table for a few minutes until I calm down, then we can clean the spill together.”

Take the time to voice what you are feeling. It will help your child make sense of their own emotions.

2. Try to Redirect the Focus

There’s no stronger focus than that of a toddler in the middle of a full-fledged tantrum. Try to redirect your child by shifting their focus off what triggered the tantrum and onto something else.

For example, if your child becomes frustrated with a toy truck because she cannot make the truck move the way she wants and throws the toy across the room:

“I can see you are angry. Throwing toys is never good because someone could get hurt. Why don’t we go play outside for a while?”

In this example, moving outside shifts the child’s focus away from the frustration of the toy, and you’ve made it clear that inappropriate behavior is never the right choice.

3. Address Violence Immediately

If the tantrum presents with hitting, kicking, spitting, or biting it is imperative to take immediate action. Remove your child from the situation and provide an appropriate consequence (ie – time out or the removal of a privilege). It is important to discuss the incident with your child and to reiterate that hurting others is never ok, no matter how angry/frustrated we are.

4. Avoid Shaming Children During Tantrums

It may be tempting to deflect the embarrassment of a tantrum (particularly if the tantrum takes place in a public location) by laughing at or making fun of your child. Keep in mind that your child is experiencing a confusing (and often frustrating) influx of emotion that they do not understand. When you laugh at, tease, or reply with sarcasm to a child during a tantrum, you’re only making a bad situation worse. Instead, remove the child from the situation, try to redirect their focus, and model what an appropriate reaction should look like.

It is sometimes easier said than done, but temper tantrums shouldn’t be taken personally. Your child is not reacting this way to hurt you. Temper tantrums are part of a child’s cognitive and emotional development. By showing children how to act during times of stress and/or frustrations, you are equipping them with emotional stability that will stay with them long into adulthood.

For any more information, call Clovel Childcare and Early Learning Centre, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. For any information about our Educational Programs, give us a call at 02 9199 0294 or fill in this contact us form.

Thanks for reading,
Clovel Childcare
1300 863 986