September 21, 2023

How to Handle a Temper Tantrum

What Is a Temper Tantrum?

You know how kids sometimes get really upset over seemingly small things? That's what we call a temper tantrum. Temper tantrums can be quite a show, with crying, screaming, stomping, and even biting or throwing things. Sometimes, it's like a little explosion of anger and frustration, and your child just ‘loses it.’

And, believe it or not, these outbursts can be about anything and everything. It might be a response to being told to put away a toy, or if you've turned down your child’s request for a treat, or if you cut their toast into rectangles but they wanted triangles. 

Temper tantrums are most commonly seen in children between the ages of one and four, and they may happen as frequently as once a day. The typical temper tantrum lasts anywhere from two to 15 minutes but tends to decrease in frequency and intensity as children grow older, especially as they begin school and develop better verbal communication skills. It's important to recognize that these emotional displays, though challenging to deal with at times, are a completely normal aspect of child development.

What Triggers a Temper Tantrum?

Temper tantrums in both toddlers and older children can seem sudden, but there are common factors that can make them more likely to happen. Understanding these triggers can provide insight into why tantrums occur and help in addressing them.

First, consider your child's temperament. This is their inherent or inborn character traits or tendencies, and it influences how quickly and intensely they respond to frustrating events or changes. Children with a more sensitive temperament might react more strongly to certain situations than children with a less sensitive temperament.

Next, think about physical needs. If your child is feeling stressed, hungry, tired, or overstimulated, they may find it harder to manage their emotions and maintain composure. This can lead to a tantrum.

There are also specific situations that might be too overwhelming for a child to handle. For instance, a toddler may struggle to cope with an older child taking away a toy, leading to a temper tantrum.

Lastly, intense emotions such as worry, fear, or anger can be difficult for children to manage. If these emotions become overwhelming, they can trigger a temper tantrum.

What’s Normal and When Should I Be Concerned?

Understanding whether your child's temper tantrum is a normal part of their development or a sign of something more concerning is important. It's all about observing the pattern and intensity of their temper tantrums.

Temper tantrums are usually short-lived, maybe lasting a few minutes and occur occasionally. However, if the temper tantrums become more frequent, last a lot longer, or become more intense, you might need to take a closer look. 

As well, if your child is hurting themselves or others, or if the temper tantrums are interfering with daily life, those are red flags. 

Also, if your child isn't growing out of this phase or if the temper tantrums continue into later childhood between nine and 12 years, it might be time to get professional help from a child development or mental health specialist. They'll be able to assess the situation and provide support and guidance tailored to your child's needs.

How to Prevent a Temper Tantrum

Completely avoiding temper tantrums with children might seem impossible, and that's because it often is. But don't worry, there are practical things you can do to reduce how often and how intense those temper tantrums might be.

First, let's talk about choices. Kids love to have a say in things, and letting them choose between a couple of options can make a big difference. Maybe let them pick between two outfits in the morning or two different snacks. Just remember to only offer choices you're comfortable with, so there's no disappointment later on.

Next, we have transitions. Moving from one activity to another can be a challenge for a child. Whether it's leaving the playground or moving to a new home, these changes can be hard. So give your child a heads-up that something's going to change soon. If it's a significant transition, like welcoming a new sibling, take the time to prepare them well in advance.

Lastly, never underestimate the importance of good food and rest. If your child is hungry or tired, the likelihood of a temper tantrum goes up. Making sure they're well-fed with nutritious meals and getting enough sleep can make a world of difference.

Remember, you won't be able to avoid every temper tantrum, but these strategies can help make them less frequent and more manageable. 

How to Handle Temper Tantrums When They Happen

Handling temper tantrums can feel overwhelming. Let’s review some strategies to guide you through these tough moments.

First, stay calm. Your child looks to you for cues on how to handle their emotions. Take a deep breath and speak gently, and you'll find your child may calm down more quickly.

Next, try to understand what triggered the temper tantrum. Is it hunger, tiredness, or something else? Knowing the cause can help you address it directly. If the temper tantrum started because they couldn't tie their shoelaces, offering help might just solve the problem.

It's also good to communicate simply and clearly. For a toddler, you could say something like, 'I see you're upset because you can't have the toy, but it's time for dinner now.'

And sometimes, offering choices can prevent a temper tantrum altogether. If they're upset about leaving the park, asking whether they'd like to swing one more time or go down the slide can make the transition smoother.

You might also consider using distraction as a tactic. If your child's upset about not getting a candy bar at the store, talk about what you'll do when you get home, or point out something interesting nearby.

It's important not to negotiate during the temper tantrum, though. Your child isn't in a state to reason at that moment, so it's best to wait until they've calmed down to discuss the situation.

Consistency also plays a big role. If the temper tantrum's about not having a cookie before dinner, don't give in, as it can send a mixed message.

After the temper tantrum subsides, offer comfort and understanding. This is a moment to reinforce your love and guide them in recognizing and expressing their emotions.

It's always helpful to evaluate what happened and learn from it for next time. 

Temper tantrums can be challenging, but with these approaches, you can turn a difficult moment into a constructive learning experience. It's all about patience, empathy, and clear strategies to strengthen your connection with your child.

Staying Calm During a Child’s Temper Tantrum 

Staying calm during a child's temper tantrum can sometimes feel like steering a ship through a storm. If the captain panics, the storm can worsen. But by maintaining composure, you can guide your way through it. Your child is looking to you as their guide, and by keeping control of your emotions, you're helping them understand that everything will be okay. It's not always easy, but your calm presence can make them feel safer, and it might just help the temper tantrum pass more quickly.

Here's what you can do to stay calm during those turbulent times:

First, prepare a strategy. Think about how you'll handle a temper tantrum in various situations, whether you're at home, out shopping, or visiting friends. Having a plan and sticking to it can make all the difference.

Secondly, focus on what's within your control. While you can't dictate how your child feels, you can guide their behavior and create a nurturing environment. Concentrate on keeping them safe and assisting them in understanding their feelings.

Third, practice patience. Developing emotional control is a journey, and your child is learning a valuable life skill. Be patient with them as they progress, and don't forget to celebrate the milestones along the way.

Next, avoid taking it personally. When a child has a temper tantrum, it's a reaction to frustration or a need, not a personal attack on you. Keeping this in mind can make it easier to respond with empathy and calm.

Fifth, maintain a sense of humor. Parenting has its ups and downs, and sometimes a lighthearted approach can ease the tension. Remembering the joy of being a parent can help you stay centered.

And lastly, ignore the critics. If someone's casting judgment during a public temper tantrum, keep your focus on your child. Your understanding of their needs is what's most important.

Remember, being calm during a temper tantrum isn't just about making it through the storm. It's about teaching your child how to navigate their own emotions. And that's a lesson that'll serve them well throughout their life.

What to Do After a Temper Tantrum

So, what should you do after a temper tantrum? It's a common question, and it's one that can be answered with a bit of understanding and compassion.

First, once the temper tantrum is over, praise your child for calming down. Be specific, like saying, 'You did a great job using your inside voice in the store.' It tells them exactly what they did right.

Next, acknowledge their feelings. You might say, 'I know you were frustrated, and I'm here to help.' It's a simple way to ease your child’s emotions.

Now, teaching children to label emotions can be a game-changer. If they can't put their feelings into words, they may express themselves through temper tantrums. So, give them the words, like telling them, 'I see you're angry; your face is red.'

And speaking of emotions, help your child learn how to handle strong ones. Guide them through solving a problem without getting upset. It encourages independence and reduces temper tantrums.

Finally, never underestimate the power of setting a good example. If they see you handling frustration calmly, chances are they'll copy that behavior.

By following these steps, you're guiding your child toward understanding and managing their emotions in a healthy way.

Wrapping Up

Childhood temper tantrums don't have to be overwhelming. With understanding, patience, and the right strategies, they can become manageable learning experiences for both you and your child.

If you find yourself struggling or concerned about your child's temper tantrums or any other aspect of their emotional development, don't hesitate to seek professional assistance. Child development experts, pediatricians, and mental health specialists are there to support you and provide tailored strategies for your child's unique needs. 

Remember, you're not alone in this journey, and professional guidance is available to help you navigate these challenges with confidence.

Want to Learn More About Temper Tantrums?

Temper Tantrums. Stanford Medicine Children’s Health.

Temper Tantrums. Nemours KidsHealth.

Temper Tantrums in Toddlers: How to Keep the Peace. Mayo Clinic.

Tantrums: Why They Happen and How to Respond. Raising Children Network.

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