Dealing with a tantrum is an inevitable challenge that comes with parenting. As frustrating as they are, tantrums are part of normal child development. They may take on different forms as your child grows older. Tantrums can present as kicking and screaming on the floor as a toddler, to whining, crying, and defiance as a school -aged child. Tantrums cannot be completely avoided because children are still developing the skills to be masters of their emotions. It is hard to stop a tantrum after it erupts. However, parents can do a lot to help prevent the frequency and duration of these unpleasant outbursts. Prevention is the best medicine. Here are ways to help prevent tantrums:
Keep kids well rested and well fed
Making sure your child gets adequate sleep and nutrition can prevent the appearance of tantrums. Lack of sleep and a hungry belly makes it very challenging for a child to handle daily tasks or accept the word “No”. A trip to the grocery store can be torture if a child is hungry or tired. Even adults succumb to unhealthy snacks when shopping on an empty stomach. On the sleep front, a sleep-deprived child is more prone to tantrums in the evening and at bedtime.
Explain and prepare
Kids handle things better when they know what to expect. As best as you can, warn them ahead of time when there will be a transition or change. Also prepare them for what is coming up by explaining what will happen, and what steps are expected of them. For example, “We are getting ready for bed, you will need to brush your teeth, put on your PJs, and get into bed.” Let them know that you can help them with these steps, but that this is what is expected every night.
Be kind but firm
Children respond well to firmness. If they sense you will waver, they will pursue what they demand relentlessly. This does not mean that parents have to lose their kindness to get a message across. It is a delicate balance to maintain kindness, and remain firm. Validating a child’s feelings can help. An example is, “I’m sorry you are feeling sad, but right now we cannot have the candy.”
Toddlers and pre-schoolers want to use their newly discovered autonomy. As parents, we can give them opportunities to exercise that autonomy by giving as many reasonable choices as possible. Give choices that you as the parent feel comfortable with. For example, “Would you like the blue or red pajamas?” Avoid choices that will give your child too much decision making power, such as, “Would you like to go to bed now?” The answer to that question is obvious.
Spend daily “special time” with your child
Individualized positive interaction with your child on a daily basis is very powerful. Even a minimum of 15 minutes a day can go a long way. The key here is not to use any of the “special time” to reprimand, or discuss changes you want your child to make. That can be done outside of the “special time”. This individualized time with your child should be devoted to purely fun and bonding interactions. Examples are reading with your child, drawing with your child, playing with action figures or dolls, or talking. When children get a regular dose of positive attention, they are less likely to seek attention via a tantrum.
Tantrums may still occur occasionally even after using preventative techniques, however, they will be far less frequent. By being consistent, and not giving into a tantrum, parents are teaching their children that they can handle uncomfortable emotions without having every demand gratified. For more individualized help for your child, please contact me.