Yes, tantrums are normal. Almost all kids do it at some point. But even if you expect it, there are few things are more exhausting than dealing with a temper tantrum. Watching your child scream and kick and lose all control can make you feel completely powerless, since it seems that nothing you do can stop it. Learning where the tantrum is coming from will often make the outburst easier to handle.
The root cause of most temper tantrums lies in the fact that the child is experiencing big emotions and is unable to properly express them. While it appears the tantrum is due to something simple—being given water instead of milk, or wearing pants when she wanted to wear a dress—these events are not the root cause for the meltdown. Oftentimes the underlying reason for the tantrum is that she is tired, hungry, or frustrated and this short fuse is what ignites the outburst.
There’s good news though! You can lessen the length and severity of the tantrum by avoiding or modifying the things that trigger it. There’s no guarantee, obviously, but if you can figure out what prompted the tantrum in the first place you have a better chance of helping your child calm down and move on with the day.
How to handle tantrums
Regardless of your diligence in identifying what spurred the tantrum, meltdown moments—or even entire days!—are inevitable. Below are some ideas on how to best handle the situations when they arise.
Give your child options
When you say, “Let’s go – we’re leaving the park now,” this can provoke a tantrum. Try giving your child a choice to thwart a tantrum before it even starts: “We have to leave soon. Would you like to swing once more, or slide one more time before we go?” Chances are if he’s busy deciding what to do next, while understanding that it’s almost time to go, he will be moved towards your goal with a better attitude.
Explain your expectations on his level
If your child doesn’t understand you, his actions may seem like he’s misbehaving. This can cause frustration and tantrums (from both of you!). So let him know the plan. Get down on his level, make eye contact, and clearly explain your request. This ensures he understands exactly what you want, which will make it easier for him to comply.
Don’t focus on the “don’ts”
Focus less on what you don’t want your child to do and tell her what you want her to do instead. It’s common to respond with, “No! Don’t jump on the couch” but that can spark a tantrum. Instead tell her what she can do. “The couch is for sitting, not for jumping. If you want to jump we can go outside.”
Try to understand her feelings
By identifying and understanding your child’s feelings you may be able to pinpoint the core emotions that ignite a tantrum. Show empathy and give words to how your child is feeling. “You’re sad. You want to stay and play at the park. I understand.” This doesn’t mean you give into her request, but if she feels you understand her she may be able to calm down on her own. The next step is to explain your position. “But the bus is coming so we have to say bye to the park.”
Draw his attention elsewhere
Multitasking is not easy for children, so they are easily distracted. This can actually work in your favor. Try diverting your child’s attention to a new game, snack, or toy, and change the subject. The distraction might be able to stop the unpleasant activity (ie. the tantrum!).
Create a fun game
Children love playing make-believe and you can use this to your advantage by making up a fun game. If he’s upset because you won’t buy him a new toy at the store, try turning it into a game: “I bet you wish you could have all the toys here. What would you put in the cart first?” This can be fun for both of you, and a happy child is unlikely to throw a tantrum.
Stop the tantrums before they start
Outline a few simple rules before you start running errands or before you begin a visit or playdate. Explain to him what behavior is expected. Keep it simple and remember to put those expectations in the positive—what you want him to do as opposed to what you don’t want him to do. Also, make sure your child is well rested and not hungry. This all helps keep his mood stabilized.
Let it go
Childhood is all about learning, and most lessons need to be taught multiple times. Be patient while helping your child understand and control his emotions. Don’t teach him a lesson by withholding your attention or affection. Once the tantrum is over and he’s bounced back, be sure that you bounce back as well.
~ These tips are from The No-Cry Discipline Solution