Temper Tantrums

As most parents will probably tell you, they have gone through any number of embarrassing situations where their little angel has burst out in the most almighty tantrum in the middle of the supermarket or parking lot, or anywhere where there’s lots of people present to witness the event.

This is a particularly stressful event for parents. We can be embarrassed, frustrated, even angry. But what we need to realise is that a toddler tantrum is not about us or our feelings, it is all about the feelings going through our child’s mind at that time and how they are expressing it.

Some tantrums are simply about the child wanting to push boundaries perhaps to get an additional treat/toy/game. By trying to see things from the child’s perspective, it is much easier not to take tantrums personally.

Things to remember during a tantrum

Wherever the tantrum takes place, either at home or outside it is important to try and remember these important elements:

  • By having a tantrum, a child is letting us know that something has upset them or frustrated them. They could simply be tired, hungry or bored and because of this, are more irritable.
  • Young children, especially toddlers, have not developed the verbal skills and abilities to let us know what is going wrong in a calm manner, so they let all the feelings out the only way they know how.
  • Regardless of the reason for the outburst, it has strong meaning for the child even if it seems like a very trivial thing to us.
  • Toddlers and young children have to learn how to regulate their emotions and how they express them, so they need to learn by example from others, especially from their parents.

 Children learn from the adults around them

This last point is important for all parents to note. We are the main focal point for our children to learn from. Children see how we react to different things and learn these reactions from us, so we have a very important role to play. How we react to a toddler’s tantrum can influence how any future tantrums are successfully dealt with.

When exploring parenting skills, regardless of where those skills are applied, there are some key points to remember:

  • When our child gets angry, we need to remain calm, regardless of how they are acting.
  • Consistency is key in any parenting situation. As parents we need to try and keep our reactions consistent so our children learn to expect the same reaction again and again.
  • By keeping calm and consistent, our children learn to react in a similar fashion and will develop this skill set for themselves.
  • The opposite is true also. So if we react to a toddler’s tantrum by shouting, or dragging our child away or perhaps even slapping them, then the only lesson they learn is that “In a frustrating situation, the first option is to react negatively or even aggressively”.
  • Where parents keep calm in any frustrating situation, children learn to remain calm themselves and will also feel safe and protected by this level of consistency. In the long term this will make the child far more likely to express themselves positively.

 Parenting Skills

Parenting is not a science. It is a series of trial and error. Our children are unique individuals and so we have to adapt to their needs whilst also keeping our parenting skills as positive as possible. It would be wonderful to be able to write a specific set of guidelines that applied to all children in a tantrum situation, but realistically we have to work out a lot for ourselves in terms of how best to respond to our children’s needs.

What we can be sure of however are three simple points:

  • Consistency
  • Repetition
  • Certainty

These three points are the basis of any type of positive parenting.

 Tips for Parents/Guardians/Carers

  1. Keep how you react in a certain situation the same once you have found a positive system that works.
  2. We all learn by repetition rather than in just “one off” situations. So remember your child learns in this way too, so you will have to repeat what you do many times before your child begins to understand this is how you react and how we should react generally.
  3. Once consistency and repetition are achieved then this gives the child a feeling of certainty. A confidence in how their parents will react, and even a feeling of safety in this realisation. Once a child feels safe and listened to, then they will react more and more positively as they grow.
  4. Prevention is better than cure: Know your toddler, while it is important for each child to face challenges, know your child’s limits, look for and be aware of triggers.
  5. Create diversions/ Distract
  6. Choose your battles/ Ignore minor issues
  7. Say No and mean it – stick to it. Do not reward the tantrum.
  8. Don’t give in to embarrassment – Know that any parent that sees you with a toddler having a tantrum will empathise because we have all been there!
  9. Give children positive choices. Finally, parents need to remember that we are not infallible. We will make mistakes, but we will learn from them too. And once we can display a positive reaction to any situation, our children will learn this skill too.

Provided by “ISPCC” Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children www.ispcc.ie