What causes tantrums and the best ways to avoid them

Caring For Our Kids

KNOXVILLE. Tenn. (WATE) — We’ve all heard about the terrible 2s, but tantrums can continue well beyond the toddler years. While there is no magic trick to avoiding tantrums completely, there are some ways parents can learn to navigate outbursts a little better.

Dr. Emily Corwin, a child psychologist at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, says that tantrums are a normal part of growing up but each child is different. Tantrums mostly happen between the ages of 1 and 3, some kids throw huge tantrums and while some throw smaller ones. Sometimes tantrums are aligned with language development.

“It can be very frustrating for children not to be able to reliably communicate wants and needs,” Corwin said.

When it comes to dealing with it, Corwin says that ignoring it may be best. Often, a child may just need time to calm down. Parents find that lots of times getting involved worsens the tantrum. However, she says there are definitely times when NOT to ignore a tantrum.

Don’t ignore a tantrum if:

  • The child is putting themself or someone else in danger.
    • For example, if your child is about to run into the street, grab him tightly and hold him or make it very clear to him that he needs to stop.
  • The child is hitting or biting.
    • Stop this behavior immediately and make sure you let them know that it’s not acceptable by moving their body out of the situation or taking away a privilege.

Corwin’s tips for surviving a tantrum:

  • Choose your battles and accommodate when you can.
    • Don’t be too rigid with toddlers.
    • If allowing your child to take her favorite stuffed animal to school is not allowed- maybe give you’re her the choice of taking her teddy bear on the ride to school and having the animal waiting in her seat at pickup or at the front door. Let the child place the bear.
  • Distraction
    • Move to a new room.
    • Offer a safer toy.
    • Sing a silly song.
  • Do nothing (if your child isn’t in danger or hurting themselves or someone else)
    • Just give them time and space to cry or yell it out if needed.
    • Always supervise when possible, but don’t do or say anything.
  • Name your child’s feeling by saying “I can tell you’re feeling mad” or whatever emotion you think your child is experiencing.
    • This can help a child learn emotion words so that they’re is more likely to use those words, rather than tantrums, to communicate in the future.
  • Give yourself a break when you need it.
    • If you feel your frustration elevating, take a time out from your toddler. Ask another parent or caregiver to supervise while you take a breather
  • Prevention
    • Sometimes it is possible to spot a tantrum coming on or avoid known tantrum triggers
  • Give your child face-to-face attention and “catch him or her doing good.”
    • Don’t ignore a toddler who is trying to get your attention or talk to you. Limit distractions and give a child undivided attention when possible, making eye contact with them. Provide specific praise in successful moments.
  • Know your child’s limits
    • Sometimes a tantrum comes out of nowhere, but sometimes you can predict them. If your child appears tired, hungry or frustrated… maybe it’s possible to stop an activity that will likely cause a melt down.
    • For example, avoid long shopping trips at naptime.

Corwin does have good news for parents, for most kids tantrums tend to get better after the age of 3.

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