Dealing with Tantrums

Dealing with tantrums is part of dealing with children. Unfortunately, children’s emotional capacities are not equal to our own, and this frequently – especially in times of frustration – comes to the fore in the form of giant tantrums. Screaming, kicking, howling, crying – you can expect it all. Generations of parents have wondered how best to deal with these emotional outbursts; find out the most effective ways.

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The first thing to find out is what’s causing your child’s tantrums. In many cases, it is frustration, but what lies at the root of that frustration? Tantrums are particularly common during the ages of two and three, when linguistic development is behind emotional development. Incapable of communicating his or her needs, your toddler becomes intolerably frustrated and this manifests in the form of kicking and screaming, often a hugely disproportionate reaction to what you feel the situation merits. It’s a good idea to keep some perspective so as to maintain your calm; your little girl isn’t having a tantrum about the fact that she can’t have an ice cream. She’s having a tantrum about the fact that she can’t express herself and effect the changes to her world she would like to make.

Keeping calm, then, is the first step to coping with tantrums. If you return fire with fire – by, for example, shouting for the tantrum to stop – the situation will merely escalate and you can expect only more drama, more screaming, and more tears. What’s more; as soon as the issue has been resolved, you will feel awful for reacting in a disproportionate way yourself. Cut yourself some slack; you were not throwing a tantrum because your child was screaming, but because of your own frustration at being unable to control the situation! But, slack cut, resolve to handle these issues calmly in future.

One thing to remember is that attention – positive or negative – will feed the tantrum and make it grow. You don’t want to give in – just to ‘shut the child up’ – because that will cause simply larger tantrums in future, as you have shown your child that screaming and crying is the way to get what he or she wants. You also don’t want to be an ogre; your child is not having a tantrum to manipulate you (that doesn’t come until later) and is not having a tantrum to make you angry. Your child needs some time to collect his or her wits. That is where the time-out comes in handy, but up until the age of 18 months to two years (depending on the child) this is an ineffective method and should be abandoned in favor of simply ignoring the tantrum until it stops.

The timeout can take place in a variety of places, but it works best if there is a fixed place for it. A corner of the room, a colored rug, or even a naughty step will do the trick. You can even purchase an electronic device to be placed on the naughty step which can be programmed to the number of minutes required and will keep track of how long your child spends sitting on the step itself.

Each timeout should take the same number of minutes as the number of years in your child’s age. A 2-year-old should be in a timeout for 2 minutes, a 4-year-old for four minutes, and so on. But don’t let that detract from the true reason for the timeout. The idea is not to punish as such… It is to provide your child with a framework within which he or she can calm down, reassess the situation, and get his or her emotions under control. This cuts short the unpleasant situation and allows a more measured dialogue to take place.

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An important part of the timeout as an ongoing parenting technique is the routine established and maintained. When your child begins to have a tantrum, it’s timeout time. When the time is up, your child can come out of the timeout spot (and it is good to have a timer for this such as that provided by the commercial naughty step gadget, or even an old egg timer, so your child has the power to assess whether or not the timeout is over without relying on you) and the situation can be discussed with the parent in question.

Tantrums are an unfortunate, but necessary part of your child’s emotional development. Embrace them; turn them into a learning tool, and help your child become a balanced adult.