Toddlers are famous for the tantrums they throw. While some parents are lucky enough to have children that only throw the occasional emotional fit, others have to deal with their child's meltdown on a daily basis. Although tantrums can make an appearance as early as your child's first birthday, they are usually most prevalent around the age of two.
Why it Happens
Tantrums are a normal part of emotional development for toddlers. As annoying as your child's fits may be, you have to remember that your toddler isn't yet programmed to keep a tight reign on their emotions. As a result, they have meltdowns, which serve as an outlet for them to release their frustration and assert themselves.
The most common culprits behind a toddler's tantrum include hunger, fatigue, frustration, stress, and feeling as though they have little control over their lives. While a two year old may seem too young to be experiencing stress and a loss of control, try picturing yourself in their position. Being constantly told what to do and rarely being able to make decisions for yourself, no matter how simple the choice is, would probably cause you to freak out now and again. Other factors, like your child's innate persistence to complete a task or the lack of rules in your household, can also contribute to an outburst.
Many parents feel that tantrums are thrown because a child is looking to manipulate their parents. In some cases this is true. However, a toddler who throws a manipulating tantrum does so because they have learned from their previous meltdowns that this behavior will get them what they want. This is why it is so important to make sure you identify the reasons behind your child's emotional outbursts and deal with the situation calmly.
Preventing the Tantrum
Tantrums often happen for a reason. By paying attention to when your child is most likely to throw a fit, you can head off a tantrum before it starts. If hunger or fatigue are the cause of your little one's screams, then make sure you stick to meal and sleep routines. You can also carry around some small, healthy snacks for your toddler to nibble on when they get hungry during the day. If naptime isn't possible, make sure you give your child some quiet time by reading or even just sitting together.
If you toddler always seems to throw a fit in the grocery store, consider that maybe your child is just getting over stimulated. Just because you have things to do, doesn't mean your toddler always wants to be along for the ride. Think about shortening the time you spend in a store or running errands during the day with you toddler in tow.
Establishing a daily routine can help provide structure and familiarity to a toddler's life, which is often what they crave. However, it can also be a double-edged sword as straying from that routine can cause a fit. If your daughter is used to you getting her ready in the morning but today she is woken up by your partner, it may not go over so well. If you know a change is coming, for instance, you have to start working nights and will not be there to tuck her in every night, having your partner share the nightly duties with you for a few nights can help ease her into the new routine.
Giving your toddler choices can also help them feel as though they have some autonomy in their life. Ask them specific questions. Do they want chicken nuggets or meatloaf for dinner? Do they want to wear the blue shirt or the purple one? Try to avoid using open-ended questions, like "What do you want for dinner?", as you may get an answer that you won't comply with ("I want ice cream for dinner!") and that can lead to a tantrum.
Do's and Don'ts
Tantrums are stressful, not only for parents, but for toddlers as well. It is important to remember this when your toddler does have a meltdown. To help make the situation less stressful, follow these suggestions:
- Do stay calm. You need to set the example as to how your toddler should react in a stressful situation. A calm demeanor and soft voice will also help you toddler quiet down sooner.
- Don't react with anger or violence. Yelling will only cause your toddler's tantrum to worsen. Hitting your child will teach them that violence is an acceptable way of dealing with anger.
- Do soothe your toddler. If they will let you touch them, then rub their back or hold them close to you so they can feel comforted.
- Don't reward a tantrum. Giving in to your toddler's demand for a toy or a treat when they throw a fit will teach them that this is how they get what they want. Rewarding a tantrum will help ensure many more fits in the years to come.
- Do empathize with them. Allow them to hear that you understand how they are feeling.
- Don't try to reason with them. The art of logic is lost on the child is lying on the floor, screaming.
- Do ignore the stares of people in public. Your toddler throwing a tantrum in public does not make you a bad parent.
- Don't punish your toddler after their tantrum. A tantrum is normal part of development. Your toddler should be reassured after their fit, not lectured.
When it Becomes a Problem
Although tantrums are a normal part of toddler development, there are times when it can pose a problem. Dealing with the issue can help prevent future problems as children that have two or more fits a day are more likely to continue having emotional outbursts throughout their childhood.
If your child's tantrums seem to occur frequently during the toddler years (two or more fits a day), or regularly past the age of four, involve violent or other types of behavioral problems, or you are having a hard time dealing with the outbursts, make an appointment with your toddlers doctor to discuss what you can do.
For more tips on dealing with a tantrum, check out Top Tantrum Tips.