They’re bound to happen: tantrums. Little ones will have meltdowns at the least convenient times. Why do they happen and what to do?
“Tantrums can be a very normal part of every child’s development and are frequently seen between the ages of 2 and 3,” says Great Start Parent Liaison, Missy Carson Smith. “This is when children begin to experience many different emotions but often lack the communication skills to tell others about what is bothering them.”
Tantrums may also happen due to tiredness, hunger or overall frustration. Reasons aside, what to do when they happen?
“Although it can be a challenge, stay calm. Do not match your child’s emotion even if it is tempting to raise your voice or get upset,” says Carson Smith. “This can make it worse for your toddler.”
Children learn from us how to handle life and its difficult moments. It is your job to be a role model for handling life’s problems with calmness and clarity. Get on their level, by kneeling or putting yourself face to face. Hold and comfort your child with soothing words and letting them know it will be okay.
If your child could be a danger to other children or pets, remove them from the area to a quiet space. If in a public place and you cannot ignore or wait out the tantrum, stop what you’re doing and leave.
Also key, according to Carson Smith: “Be sure not to reward the tantrum by ultimately giving the child what they want as a result of their unacceptable behavior.”
Tantrums can often be avoided by thinking ahead, especially when going out in public. Bring snacks and drinks, maybe a favorite toy or small book, and make sure your child is well-rested.
“Give your child words for the objects, people, and feelings around them. Reading to children gives them words for so many things not immediately in their worlds,” says Carson Smith. “When you talk about stories with your children, you are teaching them about feelings, people, problems, and solutions.”
Kids can also get upset by a quick change in activity, so give them a head’s up when you need to switch gears. Tell them what the next plan of action is in a way they can understand – for example: “We can only read two more stories before it’s time to eat lunch.” Avoiding sudden disruptions to a small child’s schedule can help keep the peace. Small children can also get overwhelmed by too much. Offer limited choices when it comes to food, toys or activities.
When the tantrum ends, talk to your child about it – the things that make them happy or sad and evoke different emotions, suggests Carson Smith. Recognize what set them off – “You were sad the cartoon ended.” Offer them encouragement to use their words to tell you how they feel or what upsets them.
Ultimately, try to see these experiences as learning moments. With patience and affection, your small child will learn the right way to communicate with you and to handle their emotions.