Once in a while, your sweet, loving angel of a toddler would have what you call unplanned meltdowns or a temper tantrum. Change, frustration, or any big emotions can cause your normally sweet baby to turn into a screaming siren.
Okay, we’re not going to tell you to just brush things off. Temper tantrums can be stressful, even though we know pretty well that it’s normal for little kids to have tantrums when faced with uncomfortable situations.
But you’re probably wondering what to do when a child throws a tantrum.
In this blog, we’ll first look at the signs that your kid is throwing a tantrum (or about to throw one). And then, we’ll look at the reasons behind these temper tantrums and what you can do to handle them.
What are the signs of a temper tantrum?
During a meltdown, your toddler may:
- Whine, cry, and scream
- Kick, hit, and pinch
- Flail their arms and legs
- Hold their breath
- Tense their body or grow limp
What causes temper tantrums?
According to psychotherapist Yolanda Renteria, “the human body needs emotional discharges to process difficult life experiences.”
Yes, our body is designed to cry, talk, yell, and sometimes even stomp or open doors a little harder as a way of processing energy out of our body. Humans (even better if they are little humans) process and soothe emotions by releasing their energy in safe spaces.”
You, as their parent, are their safe space. This means you have to be ready and employ appropriate responses for their next emotional release.
Temper tantrums in children can be verbal, physical, or both. This may happen when you ask your child to stop watching their favorite TV show, to put away their toys, or if you turn down their request.
Here are the most common reasons why meltdowns happen:
- Wanting attention
- Wanting something
- Avoiding doing something
As a parent, your role is to take control of your own emotions to help your young child safely release their uncomfortable feelings while being assured that they are loved unconditionally.
Is there anything for parents to worry about their child?
As mentioned in the beginning, temper tantrums normally occur up to 4 years of age. Toddlers, on average, have one temper tantrum a day. That’s 365 tantrums in a year.
But don’t worry too much. These temper tantrums will gradually decrease once they start going to school. As children become older, they also develop better impulse control, self-awareness, and self-control. Once an older child begins to learn to find words to express their needs and describe their strong emotions, they become less frustrated.
A meltdown will last somewhere between two to 15 minutes. If your child is having more violent tantrums that last longer than 15 minutes, it may be a sign or a more serious problem. If this happens, it would be better to consult a healthcare provider.
What to do when a child throws a tantrum: 3 Easy Tips
As a parent, it’s normal to feel helpless in your child’s emotional state when they’re having temper tantrums. You can do several things to support your toddler and keep your child calm during this time.
Just remember that it’s developmentally normal for kids, toddlers and even children in their teen years to throw tantrums, especially during their early years.
Here are some tips that you can do as a parent to help your child during their tantrums.
Tip # 1: Calm yourself first.
It can be very hard to keep yourself from also having a meltdown but being frustrated and forcing your child to calm down will surely backfire.
You can start by focusing on your own breathing, your body posture, and thoughts. Take a deep breath.
You have to stay calm because your child needs you to be their safe place. It is essential to let your child know that they can rely on you to be in control when they can’t control their intense feelings or when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, however, if you can’t stay calm, or if you started off calm but then lost control at the end. But make sure to acknowledge that your frustration does not help your child at the moment. If you accidentally raised your voice, apologize to your child calmly.
Keep practicing, and it will start getting more manageable over time. The benefits are well worth it, both for you and your toddlers as they age. It’s important for your children to have a safe space and help your child recognize one through your actions and support.
Tip # 2: Skip the lecture.
Dear parents, we’ve all had our fair share of moments when all we wanted to do was give our children a good, sounding lecture.
It can be tempting to rant about how they should know by now how to act and how they should be able to know how to calm themselves down.
But hey, believe it or not, a long litany can add more stress to our children. And this can only make them respond worse or develop bad behavior. Other children can also develop anxiety or fear towards their parents because they might process or interpret your anger in a different sense.
So hold your emotions in check, and try to calm yourself down before addressing your kid. Remember, there is nothing wrong with being silent. In fact, it can be very useful for both of you to remain in silence to help the system calm down. Observe your child’s emotional state for a moment.
If you have to speak, use a calm and confident tone and focus on providing words of encouragement and empathy.
You can say, “It’s okay, I understand. I’m here, and I’m just going to listen. Do you need a hug?”
Reinforcing a positive discipline towards your kids helps with their emotional development. Being empathetic towards young children instead of succumbing to parental anger makes a big difference to their emotional wellbeing.
As a parent, let your kids know that you care deeply about their emotional wellbeing. Sometimes kids need to hear reassuring words from their parents to validate their feelings. Instead of resorting to anger, your willingness to listen can teach young children that you care about their feelings.
Tip # 3: Take a minute before making a decision.
When you have reached this part, it means that no amount of logic and reasoning has worked with your toddler, and now you are seriously contemplating using threats.
“Stop it right now, or else I will call your father!” “If you don’t stop, I will call the police to pick you up and take you away.” Sounds familiar?
Threats, however, make things worse. Children can’t think, plan, or solve problems when their emotions are at peak intensity. They can’t calm their brains and body down fast enough to avoid punishment. That’s why it’s called a meltdown.
It’s not that they DON’T want to; it’s that they CAN’T.
It will be wise to wait until both of you can calmly talk about the conflict. Some can do this after a few hours; others take longer, around 24 to 48 hours.
Remember, each child has different ways to respond or process their strong emotions. Understand that your child’s language is still developing.
Practicing how to remain calm rather than how to react to situations teaches your child that they are not alone in experiencing big feelings and emotions, and that you are there to help and support them through this phase.
The result is that your child will not feel the need to be alarmed, and their brain will recognize you as support. They will not have the urge to run away or to fight against you. Instead, your children will begin to go to you for support, safety, security, confidence, and reassurance.
A Final Note
You can practice coping and calming strategies with your child. These are important skills for you to learn together. Finding ways to stay or return to a calm state in stressful times help the brain and body know what to do the next time big emotions come up.
As toddlers age, these tantrums eventually decrease and they will learn how to process their feelings. It’s a normal part of growing up.
Always remember that each child is different, and each family situation is unique. Sometimes we just can’t be in the same room with our children when they are in the middle of a meltdown.
Other times you would have to intervene in their tantrums so that they don’t hurt themselves. And you may need the support of a mental health provider or a team of professionals to help the whole family deal with intense emotions and anxiety.
Whatever the case, providing a safe space for your child to express their feelings and emotions is important and one of the best ways you can practice conscious parenting and positive discipline. Providing a safe space and listening to them also builds mutual respect between a parent and a child.
There may be some pressure to exert control over your child right there and then, or punish them for being unable to control their feelings. But when those thoughts come to mind, we hope you remember that it’s not because they don’t want to be in control; it’s just that they can’t.
As parents, we just have to understand that.
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