Why is my toddler always throwing tantrums, and how do I deal with them?
Find out why toddlers usually throw tantrums and learn how to deal with them when they do.
Is your toddler always throwing tantrums? What do you do when it happens? Maybe your first instinct is to stomp your feet and sit down on the floor and cry.
Fortunately, you know better. Throwing a tantrum yourself (because that’s what it is) isn’t an option, that's for sure.
So what should you do then? First of all, try to understand where your child is coming from. In order to do that, let's take a look at tantrums and why kids sometimes have them:
The occasional toddler tantrum is completely normal. Throwing a tantrum is part of a young child's growth and development.
The reasons behind them, which follow, are logical and understandable. However, the tantrum itself — the kicking, screaming or whatever else happens during its course — is obviously unpleasant.
So, as a parent, the key to dealing with tantrums is to get to the root of the problem — find out why your child is acting up and take it from there.
There are a number of reasons toddlers throw tantrums, most of which are simply expressions of other issues. Licensed marriage and family therapist Mauren Donly, MA, MFT suggests employing the HALT method to figure out why your child may be throwing a tantrum:
Being hungry is no fun — you should know. You've probably found yourself grumpy, too, when you're hungry.
When it comes to hunger pangs, there are blood sugar issues to think of, too. The amount of sugar the blood carries to the brain to make it function properly goes through highs and lows between meals.
While these ebbs and flows are normal, drastic changes affect our moods significantly, so make sure your toddler is eating a balanced diet with healthy snacks between meals. Limiting junk food and processed foods to rare occasions will also reduce the "tantrum effect" foods can have on your child.
Anger can lead kids to blow up. Backtrack to figure out what happened before the meltdown. "Did something happen at school today that I don’t know about that is manifesting now in this meltdown?" muses Donly.
But even asking the questions can prolong the anger. So the best way may be to just let the child be and do nothing. Tantrums, as researchers have found, have a pattern and rhythm. Once the child is past the angry phase, he/she enters the sad phase, which is when they reach out for comfort and when we should finally be giving it.
"Understanding that tantrums have a rhythm can not only help parents know when to intervene, but also give them a sense of control," says James A. Green, who co-authored a paper on children's tantrums entitled, Screaming, yelling, whining, and crying: Categorical and intensity differences in vocal expressions of anger and sadness in children's tantrums.
Sometimes though, young kids can also be anxious because they lack A-T-T-E-N-T-I-O-N, specifically yours.
Let's face it: spending an hour or two at home in the evenings with your toddler underfoot is not giving them attention. If you're a stay-at-home mom, spending your day immersed in housework and/or going out with your friends — with the kids tagging along — is not the kind of attention your child needs.
What they really need is for you to spend time with them face to face, one on one — playing, reading, talking, listening, etc. That’s the best kind attention you can give them.
If your child lacks sleep, a tantrum can most likely occur. Young children simply can’t cope with being too tired or fatigued — so they usually end up having tantrums.
To avoid this, try to stick to your child's regular routine of naptime and bedtime. If possible, arrange your schedule so that these are not interrupted.
"Don’t worry about the content or whatever the transgression was or whatever triggered the meltdown. Go for, hungry, angry, lonely, or tired; and address that," advises Donly. "Once everybody calms down, you can deal with whatever was the presenting issue later."
See next page for more possible reasons behind your toddler's tantrum...
Tantrums are not a toddler’s way of embarrassing you just for the fun of it. Most of the time a tantrum is the expression of hunger, anger, loneliness or feeling tired, as licensed marriage and family therapist Maureen Donly has pointed out. However, sometimes a tantrum could also be caused by the following:
Your toddler doesn’t know how to tell you he has a headache — he doesn’t know what one is. Similarly, he doesn’t understand how to tell you he has a sore throat, his ears hurt or that he is aching all over.
So, if your toddler is having an exceptionally "off day," do a little detective work. Ask questions and observe their behaviour so you’ll be able to deal with the real issue at hand.
When a toddler’s home life is unstable or full of drama and trauma, the only way they can deal with it is to take it out on anyone and everything.
If you're having marital issues, financial problems, illness in the family, relocating to another place, etc., make a consorted effort to keep things as normal as possible in your toddler’s routine.
Children who have difficulty hearing, seeing or controlling their emotions are often scared. So their tantrums are actually cries for help.
Admittedly, there are some little kids who are more aggressive than others and are downright difficult to handle. But even these little darlings can and should be taught to express themselves more constructively and appropriately.
If you think a lack of discipline is the cause, see next page...
Of all the reasons for a toddler to throw a tantrum, this is the worst and the most difficult to deal with. Why? Because, for the most part, the resolution has to come from YOU!
You have to be the one to change your behavior, as well as your reaction to your toddler’s behavior. The tantrums of an undisciplined child usually are the result of:
- Confusion over inconsistent parenting. If they can get away with something one day and not the next, your mixed messages throw them into a state of chaos. And we all know how a toddler deals with chaos… by creating more.
- Several years ago, there was a parenting fad that basically said parents should allow their children to set their own limits; that they would know when enough was enough. I bet you can pick out the teenagers and young adults whose parents fell for that, right?
- "Over-parenting" is also a precursor for tantrums. Toddlers need to be able to explore and discover their surroundings, get a little (or a lot) dirty, make a few messes and wear their clothes backwards and their shoes on the wrong feet on occasion.
- As for yelling and nagging, these are telltales signs of a lack of discipline in your home — and poor modeling, too. Remember: yelling and nagging parents make for yelling and nagging toddlers.
See next page for effective solutions to tantrums...
In reality, there is no one specific solution to your child's tantrums. There is no one magic word or thing that works, but here are a few things to try:
- Don’t give in. This is a must! No matter how hard it is to be firm or how badly you want the behavior to stop, giving in is not the answer. Of course, you need to consider all the other factors that may be the root of the tantrum, too.
- Diversion. Drawing their attention away from what’s upsetting them can easily stop a tantrum in its tracks. Toddlers have short attention spans so try to distract them with other things.
- Remove and isolate. When a toddler is removed from a situation and isolated for their behavior, they will recognize that actions have consequences. Remember, though, that a toddler’s attention span is short, so a "time out" of more than a couple of minutes only leads to more frustration.
- Just say no! Say no to your toddler and walk away. If you're not in a public area, walking off and not giving them an audience is highly effective. When they see it’s not producing the desired results, they’ll go another route. Once a toddler can carry out simple instructions, telling your toddler ‘no’ and then offering an alternative will probably do the trick.
Toddler tantrums may be normal, but they don’t have to — and should not be — acceptable behavior. Taking them for what they are, finding out what their "roots" are, and dealing with them calmly and effectively will help reduce their frequency and, hopefully, eliminate them altogether.