Every parent has been through it – or will go through it sometime. Some more often than others.
Tantrums for children are a normal part of growing up, and are one of the ways they communicate when they don’t know what else to do. Most will have them between the ages of one and three, but this can vary from child to child. Some children will throw tantrums more than others. Read on for our strategies and advice on how to handle tanturms.
How to Handle Tantrums without Losing Your Head
No parent really knows what they are doing when they start having to deal with their child’s tantrums. We just wing it and hope for the best.
There are some things that you can do to help your child deal in that moment, and also to stop yourself from getting upset by them as well.
Here are some tips and strategies to help you deal with kids’ tantrums that will hopefully make things easier.
Why is this happening to me?
A tantrum is your child’s way of expressing and letting out their frustration and anger in a matter when they want control, but aren’t allowed to have it.
It is part of learning to deal with boundaries and their increasing confidence and independence. As their language skills develop, tantrums usually lessen because they are able to tell you what they want.
Learning to manage frustration is something that comes with time, so children may take a little while to get this (there are many grown-ups out there who haven’t even figured this out yet!)
Tips to Reduce the Chances of Tantrums Happening
Give your child lots of positive attention, with praise and hugs when they are being good
Sometimes tantrums happen because this is the only time our child feels they get our concentrated attention – so make sure to give lots for good behaviour and less when they are acting out.
Offer your child a choice when you can
Offer your child choices between two options instead of always picking for them. (‘For your fruit snack, would you like apple or grapes?’ Do you want the red cup or blue cup?’ etc.) This gives them a sense of control.
Give your child opportunities to learn new skills gradually
Often frustration happens when your child wants to be able to do something for themselves and they don’t have the skill yet. If you regularly help them take smaller steps to independence, their frustration is less likely to build up and explode.
Consider each request your child makes, don’t immediately say, ‘No.’
It can be easier to pick your battles and agree to their requests if they aren’t that outrageous.
Don’t try to get things done when you are pushing your child’s limits
If they are tired or hungry or both, they are more likely to get upset. Put off your errand until another time. Look into online shopping – it is a godsend for parents with small children or multiple children. I now regular do a weekly online shop as I really hate dragging my four kids to the shops in tow for anything more than bread and milk!
Keep problem items out of sight to reduce the chances that tantrums will start
If there are things that you know will set them off, keep these out of sight and out of mind wherever possible.
What to do when your Child is having a Tantrum
It is very hard to watch your child having a tantrum, because it’s not natural for us to see or feel this kind of discomfort. You might feel angry at your child, or upset that they are frustrated and you can’t help.
It can be a better skill in life to learn to sit with and experience uncomfortable feelings without trying to turn them off or avoid them. If you can, it is ok for you and your child to experience this tantrum and just let it pass, rather than see it as something that you need to fix or stop immediately.
Keep your cool as best as you can, and wait for the tantrum to run its course. Your child is using a lot of adrenaline in this moment, and they will run out of energy pretty quickly.
Don’t try to reason with child right now or argue with them, or explain your decision. They won’t hear any of this right now. If your child is having a tantrum because they don’t want to do something you have asked them to do, make sure you follow through with this request once they’ve calmed down.
If your child is in a place where they can hurt themselves or others, you could try to gently move them to another safer, quieter place. You can try holding your child to help comfort them and calm them down.
You can try to distract your child by moving them to another room or by starting a new activity or pointing something out that they might find interesting. Offering them food or a sip of water can help too – not a treat, just a pleasant healthy snack, as nourishment instead of reward.
Can You Just Give Them What They Want?
In this moment, giving your child what he or she wants may stop the tantrum and bring back peace, and it can very tempting to give in to this. Especially if you’re out in public and you feel like absolutely everybody is staring.
But it is a good rule of thumb to not give them what they want, as this isn’t teaching them to deal with their own frustration. It is instead teaching them that tantrums work at getting what they want, and this can increase your child’s tantrums.
Look After Yourself
Managing tantrums can be exhausting and also emotional draining. It’s difficult not to question ourselves as parents at that moment, and wonder if we couldn’t handle things better or if we are making things worse.
Managing tantrums gets easier when you look after yourself as well as trying to do the best for your child.
Remember that it isn’t your fault, and you are doing the best you can. Remember that you aren’t alone, and all over the world parents are going through what you’re going through.
If you need to walk away from your child and take a breath for a minute, do so. If you are in a public place with no family or help around, just take a few steps back, making sure that you can still see your child, and then give a long, slow breath out to calm yourself.
And if you ever see a mother or father out in public dealing with their own child’s tantrum, make eye contact and give them a sign that you get it. Let them know that they are doing a good job because they are doing the best they can, and that you’ve been there too.
Our friends at Early Childhood Australia NT Branch are also holding an upcoming session on kids behaviour. Sessions will be held on Wednesday 11th March (9am till 11am) and Saturday 14th March (9am till 11am). In these sessions you can find out about Behaviour triggers and what this means. Have the opportunity to work through your own example or experience and develop your own strategies to support change. Contact Early Childhood Australia NT Branch to RSVP and book your spot.