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Tantrums are extremely common among children aged 18-36 months.
They come in all shapes and sizes. They can involve spectacular explosions of anger, frustration and disorganised behaviour (when your child ‘loses it’). You might see crying, screaming, stiffening limbs, an arched back, kicking, falling down, flailing about or running away. In some cases, children hold their breath, vomit, break things or get aggressive as part of a tantrum.
The causes of tantrums include:
temperament. This can influence how emotional children become when they feel frustrated. Some children just have more tantrums than others
- stress, hunger, tiredness and overstimulation
- situations that children just can’t cope with – for example, when an older child takes a toy away.
You’ll see fewer tantrums as your child gets older and better at handling bad feelings
. Your child will also get better at communicating his wants and needs using words. But tantrums can go on – even into adulthood – if they become a reliable way for your child to get what he wants.
You can do a lot to make it less likely that tantrums will continue into the school-age years. The most important thing is to make sure you don’t accidentally reward your child’s tantrums.
The low-key approach to dealing with tantrums
This approach is suitable for very young children (1-2 years), or for children whose tantrums do not occur very frequently or very severely.
Reduce stress. Tired, hungry and overstimulated children are more likely to throw tantrums.
Be aware of how your child is feeling. If you can see a tantrum brewing, step in and try distracting your child with another activity.
Identify tantrum triggers. Certain situations – shopping, visiting or mealtimes – might frequently involve temper tantrums. Think of ways to make these events easier on your child. For example, you could time the situations so your child isn’t tired, eats before you go out, or doesn’t need to behave for too long.
- When a tantrum occurs, stay calm (or pretend to!). If you get angry, it will make the situation worse and harder for both of you. If you need to speak at all, keep your voice calm and level, and act deliberately and slowly.
Wait out the tantrum. Ignore the behaviour until it stops. Once a temper tantrum is in full swing, it’s too late for reasoning or distraction. Your child won’t be in the mood to listen. You also run the risk of teaching your child that tantrums get your full involvement and attention.
- Make sure there’s no pay-off for the tantrum. If the tantrum occurs because your child doesn’t want to do something (such as get out of the bath), gently insist that she does (pick her up out of the bath). If the tantrum occurs because your child wants something, don’t give her what she wants.
Be consistent and calm in your approach. If you sometimes give your child what he wants when he tantrums and sometimes don’t, the problem could become worse.
Reward good behaviour. Enthusiastically praise your child when she manages frustration well.