5 red flags to toddler tantrums and when parents should be worried
Toddler tantrums are normal, but when should they be a cause for worry? Find out below.
No parent is immune to having to deal with the occasional tantrum. It’s practically a given when your child enters their toddler years. I mean, they pretty much coined the term “terrible twos” because of them. But if you’ve ever wondered when to worry about toddler tantrums, know that there are five common red flags to watch out for, according to experts.
Before going into the five red flags, it helps to know that tantrums are ways for your child to communicate emotions that they can’t fully express yet. They are still developing the skills necessary to do so.
A tantrum is often the result of an internal issue: extreme anger, sadness, or frustration. Help your little one regain perspective in a loving way. It no longer needs to be said that parenting requires loads of patience, but this is even more true for parents whose kids often have tantrums.
With that said, it’s vital to remember that intense and frequent toddler tantrums could be a signal of an underlying issue that you need to address. Ahead, we will go deeper into the five red flags all mums and dads should know about.
If your child starts hitting, kicking, or scratching practically every time he has a tantrum, then this could be worrisome. It’s normal for this to happen occasionally.
The thing about tantrums is that it’s a way kids cope with intense feelings of frustration and other complicated emotions. This can often translate to physical aggression, which isn’t always intended to hurt others.
If you notice this in your child, don’t negate the action without acknowledging the motivation behind it. Encourage your child to use their words and NOT their hands or feet. Hold their hands or feet firmly if necessary and speak to them calmly.
You can also provide outlets for physical exertion, like stomping their feet, punching the air, or even doing an angry dance to shake off the intense feelings.
This is a major red flag, because directing their intense emotion to hurting themselves is a sign of depression in kids. During tantrums, kids with this mental issue will bite, scratch, kick objects, or hit their head against a wall.
Not only is this dangerous to children’s emotional development, it could cause serious physical harm as well. Keep a close watch on your kids and be careful not to lose your cool.
Aside from knowing when to worry about toddler tantrums, you should also remember that getting angry and punishing your kids will do more harm than good, warns developmental psychologist Dona Matthews Ph. D.
Keep a log of your toddler’s tantrums. Do they have five tantrums a day, or even 10 to 20 tantrums a month? Despite your best efforts to intervene or teach them healthier ways of coping, do their tantrums seem to be getting worse?
“You can go two ways. One is to take the child to a pediatric neuropsychologist to get a broad assessment, including what is going on in the family, because some of this is absolutely in response to family difficulties,” suggests Andy C. Belden Ph.D. “The other way is to go directly to a child psychologist who will focus on the child’s emotional control and on the family circle.”
Even if your child’s tantrum lasts only for a few minutes, it can feel like an eternity, especially if you’re in public. But once your child has a tantrum that lasts for 25 minutes and beyond, it is definitely a red flag that a deeper issue needs to be addressed.
There are ways to help kids manage prolonged tantrums, like teaching them to walk away or go to their quiet corner to let off steam. They can read books, play with toys, or simply relax. Don’t treat the “quiet corner” as a form of punishment.
Unbeknownst to some parents, tantrums are actually ways children calm themselves. But when a child cannot self-soothe and you constantly have to force or even bribe them to calm down, then it could be signalling a problem.
Teach your child to engage in breathing exercises like counting to five to breath out the negative feelings, advises Dr. Matthews. You can also let them know that they can ask for help. They can use go-to phrases like, “I’m feeling angry. Please hug me, mummy.”
Once your child’s tantrum has passed, about an hour or so after it, take time to “debrief” or discuss what happened. Reiterate lessons you want to remember, like “Hitting is bad.” Offer alternatives for expression like using their words when they’re hungry, tired, or they need to be heard.
Not only can this help build their communication skills, it can also strengthen your bond. Kids need to know mummy and daddy still love them and that just because they’re lashing out doesn’t make them a bad child.
How do you handle your toddler’s tantrums? Let us know in the comments below.