Temper Tantrums in Toddlers…

Ah, your placid, cuddly little baby is growing up…but does it sometimes feel like they’ve taken a wrong turn into Monsterville? Out of nowhere, this sudden rage erupts from your precious little poppet and you have to resist the urge to check for horns budding under their hair. The slightest thing can set them off, from giving them the wrong spoon at breakfast time to getting dirt on their shoe while they’re at the park. A favourite TV programme finishing or being told it’s time for a bath when they’re playing is, apparently, just too much to bear. What’s going on? And what can you do about it?

What are tantrums all about?

There’s very little sense or reason behind a major toddler strop, so there’s absolutely no point in trying to reason with them to get them out of it. It may, however, help you to feel better to know that there are a handful of scientific explanations behind this trying new phase. The part of a child’s brain that regulates emotion and social behaviour is still not fully developed, and added to that they don’t have the life experience to think logically. Their creative imaginations can make even straightforward situations feel scary and intimidating, leading to anxiety and in turn, a release of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes further confusion and unclear thinking. Great. Added to this is the fact that everything’s still very new (new experiences, new places, new people, new feelings), their language skills are just starting to develop so they’re not always able to communicate what they want or how they feel, and to top it all off, they’re just starting to have their own opinions and are learning that they can actually have an influence in what happens. Add them all together and your toddler’s a veritable time-bomb just waiting to explode at any given moment!

How should you react?

Keeping in mind that tantrums are borne out a combination of fear, anxiety and frustration, try not to chastise your little one. They’re probably just as freaked out by their behaviour as you are! Yes, it’s easy to say and much harder to do, especially if the outbursts are frequent and you’re feeling tired and emotional too, but take some deep breaths and don’t react angrily. Some toddlers will respond well to being cuddled until they calm down, while for others this fuels the fire. Maybe they prefer to be in a quiet, safe place until their frustration subsides? Distraction often works well – just remove them from the situation and engage their interest elsewhere and they’ll soon forget what was bothering them. Each situation may need to be handled slightly differently; if they’ve been naughty (for example, hitting, kicking or biting) or if there are safety implications then you’ll need to act accordingly.


Can they be avoided?

While you can’t predict whether the grass will be too tickly, the t-shirt will be too scratchy or the wheel will fall off their favourite blue car, there are sometimes things you can do to minimise the risk of an almighty strop (without pandering to their every whim!). If they ask you if they can have, do or play with something unexpectedly, take a second to think about it before saying ‘no’ automatically – why do they want it? Is there a genuine reason for saying ‘no’ or is it just mildly inconvenient or not quite part of your plan? If you can accommodate then maybe it’s worth it – it may be really important to them. That’s not to say they should always get their own way and they do have to learn to accept ‘no’, but sometimes it’s worth considering exactly why they’re asking. Of course, tiredness and hunger can exacerbate the situation so avoid stressful situations when your toddler is either – or worse, both! Could you go to the supermarket at another time? Is it really worth going to toddler group if they barely slept last night? If you can, and where time permits, give them the little bit of independence they crave – let them walk for a while next to the pushchair or spend ten minutes trying to put their own socks on. It’s not always possible or practical, but if you can, then do. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll enjoy the peace.
You can’t prevent them all though, so when they do occur…

Give yourself a break!

There’s nothing worse than your child having a big, screaming, red-faced meltdown in the supermarket, or on the bus, or at the park…or anywhere in public really. You feel like you should know how to deal with it. You feel you’re being judged by everyone who’s passing, pretending not to stare (You probably are by some but who cares? What do they know! The majority are looking on in sympathy thinking ‘Yep, we’ve all been there!’). Your child isn’t the first and won’t be the last to have a paddy. And it’s not your fault – it’s all part of growing up. How were you to know that the ice lolly was going to be too cold or the cheese in the sandwich was too yellow? You’re so mean for not letting them drive the car or take that lady’s puppy home! While the whole experience is frustrating, exhausting and often embarrassing for you, you just have to ride it out. You know your toddler better than anyone (yes, that unreasonable, demanding, screaming mess in front of you) so do whatever works to try and calm them down (cuddling, distraction, giving them space) or just wait and let it subside. Whatever you do, don’t give yourself (or your toddler) a hard time. Deep breaths…

For more information on temper tantrums in toddlers, visit http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/temper-tantrums.aspx or http://www.bounty.com/preschool-2-to-4-years/behaviour/coping-with-tantrums

How do you cope with your little one’s tantrums? Do you have a funny tantrum-related tale? (Yes, they can be funny in hindsight!) We’d love to hear from you…

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