What is a tantrum?

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but a tantrum is defined as an uncontrolled outburst of anger or frustration, usually in children. In real terms – a tantrum can involve crying, screaming, kicking, falling onto the ground, running away, breath holding, vomiting or breaking things.

Why is my child having a tantrum?

Tantrums usually happen between the ages of 1 to 3, when children are just developing their social and emotional skills. They are common in both boys and girls.

Children at this age often don’t have the words to express the emotions they may be feeling. They are also experiencing some big brain developments, which come with increased independence and personal preferences.

How do you reduce the likelihood of a tantrum?
  • Reduce toddler stress – this can be things like being hungry, tired or overstimulated.
  • Identify triggers – if your child always has tantrums when you go shopping, you can plan ahead so they have a nap or a snack at the appropriate time.
  • Talk to your child about their emotions and emotions in general – when reading, during screen time and in other situations, identify emotions and talk about what they mean and how they can be handled.
  • Remember to give your child plenty of positive attention when it is warranted. Praise and rewards for positive behavior can help to minimize negative behavior.
  • Give your toddler options and choices as often as you can. These don’t have to be big, it can be as simple as – ‘do you want apple or orange juice?’ Or ‘Do you want to take a bath before or after dinner?’
  • Choose your battles – if your child is requesting something that isn’t completely outrageous, and you know a tantrum may be imminent, maybe giving in on this occasion might be the better option.
What do you do when your toddler is having a tantrum?
  • Stay calm – if you lose your temper or seem upset, it will escalate the situation
  • Time-out – a one minute time-out per year of a child’s age is appropriate (i.e. 2 minutes for 2 year old, 3 minutes for 3 year old, etc.)
  • If you’re in public, try to redirect your child’s attention. If that doesn’t work, keep calm and leave the location.
  • Wait out the tantrum – once it’s started, sometimes all you can do is wait it out.
  • Make sure your child is safe – don’t leave them alone.
  • Remember to always be consistent – if you give in sometimes, and hold firm other times, your child will not know the boundaries.
When is a tantrum not normal?

It might be time to have a chat with your GP or paediatrician if your child is throwing tantrums for no known reason, or frequently having tantrums with adults other than their parent or regular caregivers.

Other signs for concern include if your child is hurting themselves or others or if your child’s tantrums become more intense, last longer or occur more frequently.

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