Child tantrums appear to be are most prominent in children between the ages of two and eight. During this time period, children see the world through a narrow view. As a result, requests by parents and caregivers are met with defiance and refusal because the child’s perspective is “I do what makes me feel good (not what you want me to do).” Tantrums are also a way of communicating, whether it be to avoid a task or state a need. On top of this, children of these ages have trouble understanding and communicating their feelings. As a result, they can be easily frustrated, less likely to tolerate unpleasant experiences, and more likely to lash out if they are upset. Furthermore, when children are told to do something, instead of being given a choice, they may feel as though they have little control over the situation. Their behavior may be a way to gain more control and let you know they want a say.
Think back to the last time you told your child it was bedtime. Instead of quiet obedience, you might have been met with shrieking and yelling, “No!” This is typically followed by a shouting match between parent and child, your child running away and screaming, and you chasing them until eventually you are both worn out. Possibly at this point your child agrees to go to bed, most likely because they are exhausted. In the meantime, countless minutes were spent, exhausting both of you!
When tantrums occur, you are actually learning a lot from your child about their views, feelings, and desires. Obviously, child’s wants and demands do not always fit with parents’ needs to keep to a schedule and foster cooperation. Luckily, there are ways to help your child to fulfill their needs and concede to some of yours. You will learn to better communicate with your child, anticipate when tantrums might occur, and prevent them from escalating. You will also help your child work through them and develop positive responses to difficult situations in the future.
- Set limits, but anticipate your child may have difficulty understanding or following rules. Give ample time to prepare for transitions and offer choices whenever possible. This may require some creativity. Depending on your child’s maturity, they may be able to help you come up with choices. Otherwise, spend some time thinking of options you are comfortable offering to your child. It helps to have at least three choices for your child to pick from. You model flexibility when you show your child they can respond to situations in different ways.
- Be positive, provide plenty of praise, and expect good behavior to happen. When you are not constantly looking for your child to misbehave, your stress level decreases and you will often see your child respond better to your more positive demeanor. Both of you have been locked in a constant battle. Now you are changing the rules and trying solutions that help you both get when you need in a more relaxed way.
- Repetition is important. Ensure sure you provide clear and consistent messages when you give your child instructions. You may have to repeat yourself, as well as state what you need from to do in ways that make sense to your child. It may take some trial and error to figure out ways your child responds best.
- Empathize with how difficult it is for your child to listen to and follow your rules. Show them you understand it’s difficult for them to process and manage their emotions. Especially in the beginning, your child needs more time and patience to tell you what they are feeling. Give them breaks to calm down when situations have escalated. Provide plenty of opportunities for your child to talk about their frustration when they are ready. When talking about how to resolve conflict, offer compromises whenever you can so they feel validated.
- Pay attention to warning signs that tantrums may be a sign of bigger problems. If a tantrum is ongoing and your child is not responding to these strategies, you might want to consider talking to a mental health professional to discuss other interventions. Counseling can provide an outlet for your child and help them build the confidence, flexibility, and resilience so your child can master future situations.
It should be noted you will need to tailor these strategies to your child’s level of development and maturity. Some children are more apt to have discussions right away after a tantrum, and some need much more time to decompress. Similarly, learning how to manage one’s feelings and acquiesce to demands can be easier at various ages. A two-year-old may be less able to delay gratification or understand why they are upset. Conversely a six-year may better understand your requests, even if they still do not agree. They can also join you more in coming up with solutions.
Lastly, tantrums will lessen as children grow and develop a wider lens with which to perceive their reality. As their perspectives deepen, they will understand your point of view and reasons for rules they have to follow. This will give them the power to negotiate with you without the fuss.
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