Reasons Why Toddlers Throw TantrumsFebruary 14, 2018
Separation AnxietyFebruary 17, 2018
Not all tantrums are alike. Therefore, using one approach for all tantrums is usually ineffective. You need to identify the cause of the tantrum your child is having to respond in a way that is most productive. There are four types of tantrums:
- Frustration tantrums. When a child is frustrated, it is reassuring for a parent to notice those feelings and the difficulty of the situation. “It’s really hard to put those Legos together isn’t it? Sometimes you feel like giving up, huh?” Gentle words and touch will help comfort the child.
- Power tantrums are the result of children not getting what they want. Parents often feel their only options are to give in or argue, which are both counterproductive. Instead, recognize the child’s disappointment at not being able to control the limits. Then shift the focus to what the child can control, by offering choices within the limits you’ve set. For example, “I know you’d like to have a cookie before dinner. If you’re hungry, you can either have a carrot or some grapes.” If the child still tries to influence you with a tantrum, restate the choices once, then disengage from the power struggle and ignore any further tantrum behavior.
- Attention tantrums are special performances that keep parents involved in trying to stop the unwanted behavior. Let children know that you can’t understand them when they talk or act that way. Give them a suggestion for getting your attention in a positive way. Reassure them that when they calm down you will listen to them. Then, ignore only the tantrum behavior. If the child says or does anything calmly or in an appropriate way, respond respectfully. The child will soon find that tantrums will cause the parent to withdraw attention, rather than get more involved.
- Over-stimulation tantrums usually occur in children who are too young to regulate their body’s reaction to hunger, fatigue, or being overwhelmed. If a child is overstimulated, get away to a calm, quiet setting or create one as soon as possible. Acknowledge the child’s needs and keep verbal interactions to a minimum. Holding or rocking the child can either calm a child or add more stimulation. Try it and see if it helps.
Destructive behavior: Any of these tantrums can involve destructive behavior. In this case, still address the underlying emotions based on the type of tantrum it is. Let the child know it’s okay to feel angry, but that you won’t let him hurt himself or others. Try gently but firmly hugging, rocking, or sitting still until the wave of energy passes. If this only increases the child’s anger, try channeling the anger energy in acceptable physical ways, like hitting pillows or drawing a mad picture. If any interaction escalates the tantrum (as with attention tantrums), move the child to a safer location and let the child work through the anger while you selectively ignore the behavior.
If children can see that tantrums do not serve any purpose or have no payoff, they will be more open to learning skills for managing their overwhelming emotions. As they mature, they will naturally use these skills to replace tantrums and both of you will feel more confident and self-controlled.
Tantrum Red Flags
Belden warns that normal children may display every one of these tantrum warning flags from time to time. But kids with problems show these signs in nearly every tantrum:
- Aggression toward caregivers, objects, or both. If this happened more than half the time in the last 10 to 20 tantrums, it may signal disruptive disorders. “It is not uncommon at all for children to try to kick their moms because they won’t buy them an ice cream cone. But if this happens 90% of the time, and you have to take cover to protect yourself during a tantrum, this may mean a problem,” Belden says.
- Self-injury. Kids with major depression and kids with mixed major depression and disruptive behavior were much more likely than healthy kids to bite themselves, scratch themselves, bang their heads against a wall, or kick objects in an attempt to hurt their foot.
- Frequent tantrums. Preschoolers who have 10 to 20 tantrums a month at home, or who have more than five tantrums a day on multiple days outside the home, are at risk of a serious psychiatric problem.
- Very long tantrums. A five-minute tantrum can seem like a million years to a parent. But kids who consistently have tantrums that last more than 25 minutes may have underlying problems. “A normal child may have a tantrum that lasts an hour, but the next one lasts 30 seconds. These children with psychiatric disorders are having 25-minute or longer tantrums 90% of the time,” Belden says.
- Inability to calm oneself after a tantrum. “These kids almost every time require some sort of external force to calm them down,” Belden says. “You have to constantly remove them from the situation or bribe them or it will go on and on.”