As Juanita and her son Marc move through the local grocery store, Marc’s eyes widen as he spots an enticing display of cupcakes. Marc’s first birthday was only a few days prior, so the last thing he needs is more frosting! Juanita spins her cart around and quickly
moves away from the cupcakes. She points to other food items in hopes of distracting Marc. But — no — it’s too late! He arches his back and desperately reaches for the goodies! “Oh no,” Juanita thinks to herself. “It looks like there’s going to be a meltdown!” Marc’s high-pitched screams can be heard way over in the frozen food aisle! Juanita is mortified by the onlookers’ reaction to the show!
Most likely, you’ve seen such a display in a local shopping centre. Or, perhaps you were the entertainment — the focus of attention as your child demonstrated her best kicking and screaming skills for all to see! Take comfort in knowing that tantrums are a common part of many children’s development — particularly during the toddler years.
Let’s take a closer look at tantrums. Find out why tantrums happen and how to cope with them when they do occur.
What causes temper tantrums?
Children have temper tantrums for three main reasons:
1. They’re unable to cope with their feelings. These feelings can be anything from hunger, sickness, confusion, helplessness, frustration, anger or even terror. Being physically upset is the main way for a toddler with a limited vocabulary to express feelings. For example, if you refuse to give in to your child and this makes him feel angry, your child may not be able to cope with his angry feelings. He may express his feelings by having a temper tantrum.
2. They’ve learned — from past experience — that temper tantrums are rewarded. If your child gets what he wants once as a result of a tantrum, he is more likely to have temper tantrums to force you to his will.
3. They want attention. This can stem from feelings of being left out, ignored or lonely.
If you find that tantrums are happening more and more, or that your child is really having trouble settling down, discuss this
with your child’s physician.
What should you do when your child has a temper tantrum?
Regardless of why your child is having a tantrum, here are a few simple guidelines to follow when a tantrum takes place:
• Don’t worry about what other people in the vicinity are thinking. For every person who is critical, there’s another who understands and is deeply sympathetic. Just concentrate on handling the situation, and remember there are no perfect parents.
• Be patient. Try to set a good example in the way you handle your child’s tantrum. Avoid losing your temper with your child. This will only make things worse.
• Avoid giving in to your child during a tantrum — although this can be very tempting when you’re dealing with your kicking and screaming child in a public place! Even if you give in only once or twice, you’re teaching your child that tantrums are an effective way to get what she wants.
• Soothe, calm and talk to your child. If this doesn’t work — because your child is too worked up — take her to a calm, safe place and let her cry it out. Stay close by, and leave the talking for later.
• Once she is ready, gently hold your child and offer reassuring comments.Help your child talk about what happened, how she felt and why she was angry. For example, “I know you want the candy bar, but you can’t have one today.”
Preventing Temper Tantrums
Can you prevent your child from having temper tantrums altogether? No, not exactly. But you can learn about the types of situations that are likely to set off tantrums with your child. Armed with that knowledge, you can prevent at least some blow-ups.
Remember, only a few parents are blessed enough to be able to have a tantrum-free child. Tantrums are a common part of many children’s development — particularly during their toddler years.
Now, let’s examine some great ideas for preventing temper tantrums at home and in public.
Here are some Comfort, Play & Teach™ suggestions for preventing tantrums at home:
Ensure your child doesn’t become too tired or too hungry. These are the enemies of good behaviour. If your child has had a sleepless night or wasn’t hungry at his last meal, he may become more irritable or cranky. This can put him on the road to a tantrum.
Provide stimulating activities for your baby to do when you need to do things that are boring to her. For example, listening to you talk on the telephone is very boring to your young toddler. Try keeping a basket of toys that your child likes close by for just such occasions. Or, try to involve your child in something close by — even though she is not able to help with cooking, cleaning the car or doing the laundry.
Stick to your routines — especially those at the end of the day. The late afternoon and early evening are the “witching hour” in many families. At this time, toddlers are a lot more likely to be hungry and tired. If their routine is disrupted, things can go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye. Have nutritious snacks available in case you get stuck in traffic or dinner is unavoidably delayed. Don’t hold off dinner too long — even if you have to eat without one parent present. When you’re tired, keep the bath, book and bed routine in place. The last thing you need when you are tired is a screaming baby.
How do you prevent your child from having a tantrum in public?
Babies and young children often find shopping and other trips away from home overwhelming. The sights and activities in stores and public places may cause your child to spiral out of control.
Try to be consistent with what you would do at home. It may seem easier to look the other way or give in, rather than deal with the behaviour right there. However, if you are inconsistent, it may encourage even more demanding behaviour in the future.
Here are some strategies to prevent tantrums when you are in public with your child:
• Don’t go on an outing when your child is tired.
• Try to remain calm. If you become angry with the bank teller or upset in a traffic jam, your toddler is likely to sense this, and he may lose complete control.
• Try to keep trips short and within your child’s limits. Some babies love being out and about; some don’t. Even those that love it will have off-days. In general, keep outings on the short side for one year olds. Gradually go for longer outings as your child approaches her
• Bring along nutritious snacks and interesting toys. This will help to ensure your child doesn’t become hungry. Also, you won’t be tempted to give your child a non-nutritious treat or to buy an un-needed toy in an effort to stop a tantrum.
• Talk to your child while you shop, run errands and so on. Engage his attention. Ask for his opinion, and have him help you find the items on your shopping list. Even a one year old will know what an apple looks like and be able to recognize his favourite cereal box.
Used with permission from The Phoenix Centre for Children & Families. Visit www.welcometoparenting.com for information on pregnancy and parenting.