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Understanding and managing toddler tantrums

Updated: May 3

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Why do toddlers have tantrums?

Tantrums are normal toddler behavior. This is the means for young children to express their disappointment or frustration. Due to their lack of vocabulary and their inability to put their emotions to words, it is understandable that they are annoyed when the caretaker is not able to understand their state of being. This disappointment is what leads the way to tantrums. It doesn’t come as a surprise that tantrums are as difficult for parents as it is for the little humans. Tantrums can have a lot of underlying reasons - hunger, tiredness, the need for attention or discomfort are the most common of these reasons. This can play out as a tantrum that is physical, verbal or a combination of both.

What should you do while a toddler throws a tantrum?

The first step here is to understand that a tantrum is your child trying to express. An average tantrum lasts anywhere between 2 to 15 minutes. To be able to manage a tantrum, the basic requirement is to be able to regulate our own feelings. Unless you can stay calm and have your emotions in control, you will not be able to help your child. It is easy to take these tantrums personally and lose temper. However, this does more harm than good. A few things to keep in mind while trying to manage a tantrum are:

  1. Children have the inherent need to feel heard, and an important step is to acknowledge their big emotions and empathize with them.

  2. The next thing would be to stay consistent. Avoid changing your response mid tantrum. This makes the child believe that throwing a tantrum is the way to get things done.

  3. Avoid saying no whenever possible. No one likes to be constantly rejected, why would a child be any different? Unless it’s a safety concern, try to let your child make choices and have their way.

  4. Establish a broad routine. There is always room for unexpected situations, but toddlers strive for known patterns. It eases them and gives them an idea of what to expect.

  5. Preschool classes can be a means for social interaction that help them see how tantrums are managed.

  6. Lastly and most importantly, do not punish a tantrum. Understand that your child is not trying to frustrate you. They need your love and help and are trying to convey this the only way they know how.

What can be done after a tantrum?

The frequency and severity of tantrums reduce as the child becomes independent and has a better grasp of language and vocabulary. Trying to guide or correct their behavior mid-tantrum is a futile task. They cannot process anything other than kindness when they are overwhelmed. However, little actions can prove to be helpful post a tantrum.

  1. Help them label their emotions. Play-based learning can be an effective means to achieve this. Try to help them understand what is happy, sad, angry, scared etc. This helps them convey better the next time around.

  2. Offer praise for calming down. This builds up their confidence.

  3. Set a good example. As much as possible, try to stay calm and regulated. However, understand that emotions are human nature, if you slip up, accept, and apologize to your child. It is amazing how much they understand.

Most importantly, remind yourself that tantrums do not mean that you are a bad parent or caregiver, it is normal and appropriate toddler behavior. Happy parenting!


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