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Why do temper tantrums happen and what can you do when they occur?

Why do temper tantrums happen and what can you do when they occur? So picture this situation. You’re in the store and your little one sees something they want. You, like most responsible parents say no at some point. And you, like most parents might witness your child transform from a calm happy child into a screaming loose cannon. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, I know I certainly have.

Temper tantrums can be an absolute nightmare for parents. Research has shown that these explosive reactions are quite common for small children. But the real question is, why do temper tantrums happen and what can you do when they occur? Take this journey with me as I explore temper tantrums and provide you with 5 ways of coping with them.

I remember when I did my early year foundation course a few years ago, one lesson really stood out to me. It was a lesson about impulse control and how children, like adults, have many stressors that they have to deal with on a daily basis. Small children particularly those in the “terrible twos and threes” lack the capacity to express themselves and manage their feelings and by extension, their stressors.

Before turning four years old, the part of the brain responsible for exerting control over the emotional, impulsive other part of the brain is not well developed. This means that sometimes your little one has no control over their feelings. This also means that they may not be intentionally trying to go against your rules or as they say ‘have a complete meltdown’. Lack of impulse control is therefore one reason why children have temper tantrums-they just don’t know how to control their emotions…

Another reason why children have temper tantrums is conflicting emotions. Young children seek independence. They want to do everything for themselves, even when they physically can’t. This divide can bear feelings of frustration that can quickly turn into anger. Hence, a temper tantrum.

So what can you do to help your little one cope.

1. Identify the Stressors

Is your little one tired, hungry, lonely or over-stimulated? Did someone take away their toy? Is he or she lonely? Did you disrupt their routine? Once you have identified the why, it’s time to:

2. Understand and be empathetic to their feelings.

How would you feel if you were watching your favorite show and someone stood in front of the TV? I’m guessing quite similar to how your child might feel if someone takes away a toy they have been completely engrossed with. It is therefore useful to:

3. Promptly distract or wait it out.

It’s hard, I know, but being empathetic to your child’s feelings instead of losing your cool is critical at this point. They need to know that you love them despite not liking their reactions. Negotiating with a screaming toddler is like talking to a brick wall. It makes no sense. Use words or questions like that made you mad huh or that must have been frustrating for you. Once your child is calm, it is time to:

4. Talk it out 

Get down to their level, look them in the eye and use simple words. Ask them about their emotions and how they felt at the time. Offer ways of managing that situation in the future like encouraging them to use their words, telling you what happened or what you can do. Once you have understood the stressors, been empathetic to their emotions, waited it out and talked it over, it’s time to:

5. Plan for the tantrum triggers in the future.

Prep them before you leave, set consequences and expectations – Mummy wont be buying anything extra today. Follow this through with praise or punishment.

Here are two bonus tips

1.Never concede at the time of the tantrum! Hold your ground and be consistent. Children can quickly learn to manipulate you by throwing tantrums in order to get their own way. 

2. Let’s not judge other parents, afterall it could be you at some point.

I hope this article has been insightful for you. For further information, check out this scholastic article on development and impulsivity. Also feel free to stay a while and check out our other posts on parenting and toddler activities. 

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