Dealing With Tantrums

Most parents would have dealt with the horror of their child throwing tantrums, at home and in public. It is a common experience for parents and a typical behaviour in toddlers and pre-schoolers. Tantrums are usually brief periods of angry outbursts or unreasonable behaviours like crying, screaming, shouting, and physical displays of displeasure such as kicking and hitting.

Throwing a tantrum is a normal part of growing up, as children learn to become more independent and want to gain control over their lives. Often they become frustrated when their needs are not met and they are not able to express their feelings due to emerging language skills. Tantrums are often triggered when a child feels tired, hungry, ignored, anxious or worried. To deal with tantrums, parents need to tune in to their child’s emotions and do the best to avoid situations that can trigger tantrums.

Wailing vs. in-control

What can you do when your child throws a tantrum? Every parent has their own way of dealing with tantrums, depending on situations. Here is a basic guide on how to deal with tantrums.

  • Stay calm: Your child’s screaming and yelling may make you feel angry, disappointed, and embarrassed if it occurs in front of other people. However, you have to stay calm and not get upset. Remind yourself that this happens to other parents as well. Only then, can you make a rational decision on how to manage his tantrum.
  • Pay no attention: Ignore the tantrum and continue with whatever you are doing. However, discreetly keep an eye on him to make sure that he stays safe. It can be hard to ignore him, especially when other people are looking, but it is important that your child learns he is not going to get your attention by throwing a tantrum.
  • Be consistent: When making and applying rules, try to be consistent at all times. He may be throwing a tantrum to get something that you have forbidden. Do not give in. Being firm with your decision will teach him that boundaries and rules are important. Make sure that all carers involved understand this and stay consistent.
  • Focus on good behaviour: Once your child starts to calm down, you can give him your attention again. Praise him for the smallest positive behaviour and reinforce this with a big warm hug. By doing this, you are rewarding him for good behaviour, and he will likely stay calm and continue to behave. Always reassure him that you love him and it is the behaviour that you do not condone.
  • Other strategies: Redirect him from the scene of the tantrum to avoid it recurring. This is useful if he is acting up because he wanted something nearby. You can also try giving him a big hug to make him feel secure and show that you care. Or you can try laughing or smiling it off (instead of being angry) as it shows that you are in control and will not give in to his request.

Tantrum triggers

It is easier to prevent a tantrum than having to deal with it. It certainly helps if you know your child’s tantrum triggers.

  • Start early: Training emotional regulation starts from infancy. Do not anticipate your infant’s needs. Making him wait a minute or two when he starts to cry while you are preparing to feed him will not do any harm. Talk to him to calm and reassure him.
  • Avoid boredom: Feeling bored can make your child misbehave. Keep him occupied if he is going to be waiting for some time, for example, during an appointment at the clinic. Bring along his favourite toy or a colouring book to keep him engaged. He may prefer gadgets, but do not let him use it often.
  • Let him rest: Being tiredcan trigger tantrums. Let himhave an afternoon nap or rest if he seems tired. Do not take him out for an errand if he tells you that he is tired. You can reschedule the errand if no one is available to look after him. Take along a stroller if necessary.
  • Manage hunger: Knowwhen he is likely to be cranky due to hunger. Manage hunger by giving your child healthy snacks like bite-sized fruits or vegetables in between meals and always ensure you have some with you when you go out.
  • Hide off-limit objects: Off-limit objects can be something like his favourite treats or dangerous objects such as knives. He may want to have these things even if he is not allowed to, causing him to throw a tantrum. Keep these things out of his sight and reach.
  • Distractions can help: A distraction can be a way to avoid boredom and frustration. Start a new activity to distract him from the one that is forbidden. When shopping for groceries, you can ask him to locate things that you need to prevent him from getting bored.

Dealing with tantrums is a normal part of raising children. As children grow older, they will gain self-control and learn to cooperate and cope with frustration. However, you should talk to caregivers or teachers if it happens at the nursery or school. Tantrums may also be related to health problems, although it is not common. Refer to a paediatrician if you have concerns.

An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.

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