We’ve all seen the strange things children can throw tantrums over – from toddlers getting upset because the microwave “ate their lunch” to teenagers slamming doors because you took their phone away.
But why do children throw tantrums and, more importantly, is there an “off” button?
Being able to calm themselves and control their emotions is an important skill for children to learn. Children have a desire for independence and often get frustrated at not being able to understand or do something, or may experience emotional overload.
For instance, toddlers may struggle because they know what they want to say, but don’t yet have the language skills to say it.
How to Prevent Tantrums
Preventing a tantrum is always the best option if possible. Getting to know your child’s particular triggers is valuable as it provides a warning system for a looming meltdown.
Establishing a few clear ground rules and sticking to them means that children are less likely to get frustrated, because they know the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
Positive reinforcement is also a good tool for tantrum prevention, especially those tantrums that are a learnt behaviour, rather than an emotional release. The most successful include sticker charts, certificates, and ‘golden time’ when your child can play with or do something he or she really likes (e.g. a trip to the park).
Distraction is also a good preventative tool, but it only works if the tantrum is caught before it really gets going.
Getting to know your child’s particular triggers is valuable as it provides a warning system for a looming meltdown.
How to Handle Tantrums When They Happen
If your child has gone into a full-blown tantrum, the first step is to calm them down. At this point the “panic button” area of their brain, the one that deals with emotions and a fight-or-flight response, has been triggered.
Until your child has moved from this emotional response, they won’t be able to process the issue logically.
Find somewhere quiet and away from others, as feeling watched can make them more upset or embarrassed.
It’s also crucial to stay calm yourself, as children are very perceptive of your emotions. This also helps them to learn that there are better ways to resolve the situation.
Once your child has calmed down, you can talk through what it was that made him or her sad. Talk about their choices using simple, age-appropriate words, establish the root cause of the tantrum, and discuss the consequences in the future if the same situation arises.
If the dispute has been between your child and a friend or sibling, it’s also important to restore the relationship. Children who throw tantrums may not mean to affect others and so can be very upset that they may have hurt their friend.
A child who has frequent tantrums is not doing it because they want to be naughty, they just haven’t yet learned to manage their behaviour when they have challenging feelings.
Working to understand what triggers your child and using the prevention tips above where possible can help avoid regular tantrums, while staying calm when they do happen can help your child learn to cope with their emotions.