Tantrums, why they happen, and how to respond

Tantrums are inevitable and a natural progression through a young child’s life. For first time parents, the first ever tantrum can come as an unexpected shock. Tantrums may indeed present parents with one of their biggest challenges. Sadly, dealing with a toddler’s tantrum does not have a one size fits all approach. Tantrums come in all shapes and sizes and can start as young as one.

What are tantrums?

The nature of tantrums can vary for each child but is generally a spectacular explosion of anger. Your child might scream, kick, hold their breath, get aggressive, lash out physically and even bite. Reasons for tantrums can be that your child is tired, hungry, attention seeking, frustrated and / or overstimulated.

Why do tantrums happen?

Tantrums are common in children usually aged between 1-3 years of age and typically peak between the ages of 2 and 3 and start to decline by the age of 4.

Children at this tender age still do not have the words to fully express themselves and are forming a sense of self. Due to this lack of expression, they feel frustrated, and the frustration is exhibited as a tantrum. Children are developing their independence and discovering how their behaviour can influence the way their parents and others behave.

Understanding your toddler’s tantrum

Tantrums are a medium of expression for young toddlers to communicate to adults that something is amiss. The key to managing tantrums therefore is to understand what your toddler is attempting to communicate. Once a child develops their communications skills, their outbursts will be minimised.

Experts agree that understanding what triggers the outburst is essential to effectively minimising future episodes. How parents respond is critical to effective tantrum management.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Steven Dickstein says,

“Tantrums and meltdowns are like fevers – they can be triggered by so many different problems that we can’t make them stop until we understand what’s triggering them”.

Modifying the triggers

The duration of a tantrum will depend on a child’s level of persistence, energy, and the parents’ level of patience. When parents are able to identify what triggers their child, steps can be taken to eliminate the causes.

Resist giving in

When your child is in the middle of a major tantrum, the natural temptation for parents is to concede. Experts agree that parents should avoid this option as it reinforces such behaviour. Instead, ignore the outburst and lavish praise on acceptable behaviours that are sought.

Remain calm

It is important for parents to remain calm and in control of their emotions when their child is having a tantrum. A calm temperament allows for control of the situation and the appropriate action to be taken. By remaining calm parents are modelling the behaviour they want to see in their child.

There is no correct way to deal with a tantrum since each child and situation is different. However, experts do agree to implement short term solutions such as giving in, bribing, and begging are bad strategies. The key is to be consistent and calm and focus on the behaviours you want and not emotionally attack your child.

Tantrums are a normal part of the transitioning process for young children and when managed well, is an important aspect of their emotional wellbeing and health. At Explorers, our qualified Educators are experienced in managing tantrums. They can easily identify the triggers and working together with parents, can put strategies in place to minimise the outbursts and create a more peaceful and calming environment.