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According to the Mayo Clinic, a tantrum occurs when a child needs to express frustration with a situation. Tantrums can happen when your toddler struggles with a task, or they disagree with a choice you made. If your child is tired or hungry, a tantrum might be triggered more easily or over something small.
A tantrum can signal that the child does not have the words to communicate their feelings. For kids around the age of 1 or 2, a tantrum will generally center around something that the child wants, but cannot express clearly. As they get older and more independent, meltdowns are more likely to stem from their desire to perform tasks independently.
Types of Tantrums
Behavior experts have developed different categories for tantrums that can guide the way that you handle their frustration.
"I want that" Tantrum: These tantrums will occur when a child wants something. This kind of tantrum is most likely to occur in a store or the kitchen when they can see something that they want, but you are unwilling to give in.
"I want attention" Tantrum: This kind of tantrum is self-explanatory. Your child wants attention, and a total meltdown is a clear way to get it.
"I want my way" Tantrum: A power struggle can occur when you have decided something with which they disagree. From brushing their teeth to doing up a seatbelt, this tantrum can be set off by almost anything.
One of the best ways of dealing with tantrums is to do everything you can to keep them from starting. If you know you need to run to the store, avoid going right before naptime or lunch. Keep your child comfortable and communicate openly with the things that you are doing.
Since most kids cannot tell time, giving them more concrete warnings or ways to countdown their time can help them feel more in control.
Similarly, giving your child control in scenarios such as providing them with a list when grocery shopping that they can cross off as you shop. A checklist or a goal to meet will give them a positive ending to the chore or errand.
Dealing with Tantrums
Helping your child learn to self-regulate and manage their emotions is a long-term way to cope with tantrums and hopefully lessen their length or gravity.
However, if you find yourself with a child having a full-on public meltdown, we have some tips for you.
- Stay Calm. Getting angry will only intensify the situation. Your role as a parent is to help your child learn how to calm down. You can model that for them by speaking and acting calmly.
Ignore the tantrum and wait it out. Unless your child is acting out because of an immediate physical need like hunger or tiredness, or if they are in danger of harming themselves or others, your best bet is to wait things out. Don't try to reason with them or give an explanation. It's too late at that point.
Use timeouts if necessary. If a tantrum escalates to the point that you need to remove your child from the situation, find a quiet, isolated spot to stay with them until they calm down. Don't set a specific time limit; instead, let your child's behavior dictate when the timeout should end. If they were throwing a tantrum in response to being told to do something they do not want to do, be sure to return to the task in question after they calm down; otherwise, they may learn to use timeouts as a way to escape situations completely.
Be consistent. If your child learns that even some of their tantrums are an effective way to get what they want, they'll likely employ them more often.
What to do After a Tantrum
Praise your child for regaining control and speak to their vulnerable state by reassuring them that you still love them.
Promote proper communication by explaining that a tantrum is not how you get mom or dad's attention. Encourage them to use their words (assuming they can) to describe how they feel. Relate to their emotions by saying something like, "I know it's frustrating that you can't have a cookie right now."
Don't judge yourself, or other parents for that matter, if tantrums are a common occurrence. Tantrums are a completely normal part of childhood. The frequency and intensity of them have a lot to do with a child's temperament, where they are at in their development and countless situational and emotional factors.
Remember, your child is not having a tantrum to spite you. Usually, they simply don't have the proper skills to handle the situation they are in at the moment. It takes time for them to develop these self-regulation skills, and they are looking to you to help guide them through this process.
When to Seek Professional Help
If your child's tantrums increase in frequency and intensity after the age of four, if they are often causing harm to themselves or others, or if they are exhibiting emotional outbursts beyond typical behavior problems, you should talk to your child's doctor.
Likewise, if you often find yourself unable to control your own anger and frustration when dealing with tantrums, if you keep giving in to their demands or if you start developing consistently negative feelings toward your child, please consult a medical professional.
TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.