Tantrums 101

We’ve all lived it or at least been a witness to it: the small child throwing an epic tantrum on the floor in a store next to the mortified parent doing all he or she can to get control of the situation. Said toddler hasn’t held anything back. This tantrum comes complete with the throwing, screaming, crying and flailing. How do you make it stop, and how do you keep it from happening again?

If you troll the web for help, you’ll come across everything from what the experts recommend to what is tried and true for the mom next door. Before finding out how to stop or prevent tantrums, it’s a good idea to learn the anatomy of a tantrum and also why young children often experience them. Kidshealth.org does a great job summing up the tantrum, and this article from parents.com offers a clear explanation provided by a pediatric neuropsychologist and a psychology professor. The gist is that young kids often don’t know how to express their anger and sadness, so they resort to a tantrum, which is based on emotion and not reasoning. Temper tantrums come in stages of anger and sadness or both at the same time, followed by a need for comfort.

What are some ways to prevent/stop them?

Ask your mom friends, and they might say one of the following:

Prevent them:

  1. Give positive attention when the child is well-behaved, and he/she won’t go looking for attention in other ways.
  2. Offer distractions – keep your child busy/entertained so there isn’t a chance or need to have a tantrum.
  3. Know their limits – don’t take your child out on too many errands or miss nap time. Fatigue, hunger and restlessness can trigger tantrums.
  4. Give up some control – to give you child what they really want, which is control, give in a little. Let them choose between two things, both of which you want them to do anyway, and they will feel like they had a say in it.
  5. Keep triggers out of sight – that box of cookies on your counter? Put it away in the pantry unless it’s time for dessert. Out of sight, out of mind.

Put a stop to them:

  1. Put your child in a time out – save time out for when the safety of your little one or others is threatened. Time out will provide a quiet break away from you for your child to collect his or her thoughts and calm down.
  2. Ignore the tantrum – this suggestion comes up again and again. If you don’t give your child the reaction he or she is looking for, the tantrums will subside. However, some medical professionals, such as Dr. Claudia Gold, Director of the Early Childhood Social Emotional Health program at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts, believe ignoring them is like abandoning them at a time of weakness. Ignoring is one on her list of tactics that never work to quell tantrums.
  3. Change of scenery – sometimes, all your kid needs is a breath of fresh air and a change of locale to pull it together.
  4. Keep your cool – stay calm to avoid intensifying the situation. Your child will learn from your behavior.

The next time you find yourself in an aisle of Target with a screaming toddler, think back to these tips, and good luck!