Ah, the dreaded temper tantrum. They’re no fun, but they are a normal part of childhood, and parenting. Cook Children’s pediatrician and mom, Dr. Christina Sherrod, shares why kids have tantrums, when they’ll outgrow them, and what to do when your child is having one.
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If your child is having tantrums, the first thing to know is that it is a very normal part of childhood and you have a normal child. They usually start when a kid turns one, and peak up until about the age of four. But tantrums are pretty normal and a regular part of childhood up until age seven.
The first thing to learn when your child is having a temper tantrum is nothing about your child. The first thing to think about is how you're going to respond. And that it's really important as a parent, that you stay calm, because your child is going to read and act based off of how you respond.
And I think the thing to realize about tantrums is that your child is just overwhelmed with emotions. And you can't make that go away for them. Your job as a parent is to help them learn how to handle those very strong emotions.
You can't yell at them and get those emotions to stop. Often, that makes it worse. You can't spank them to get those emotions to stop and you can't punish them. What you really need to do is let them ride that ride. Give them a calm, safe environment to learn how to calm down. And then, once they're calmed down, try to talk to them about it. And how you talk to them about it really depends on how old they are.
So an 18 month old can't really understand long sentences, but they will have tantrums when they're tired, when they're hungry. And they'll definitely have tantrums when you don't give them what they want.
All of those are instances where their emotions are just overwhelming them. And they're screaming and crying and hitting and kicking. And what you want to do is, first set really good boundaries that they are not allowed to hit or kick or hurt anyone else when they're having a tantrum. If they do that, you tell them no, and you put them in timeout.
If they're just kicking the floor, and not hurting themselves and screaming and crying, then you really just want to give them a minute. You just want to keep yourself calm. Try not to say anything, and let them just get to a place where they're out of that part of their brain that is illogical, and not hearing you and not understanding what you're saying.
And then when they calm down, that's when you say, "Man, you were so upset because I wouldn't give you the remote control. I know that made you mad, but it's not a toy. And I'm sorry that you're upset. Do you feel better now?" And that's all you do.
You just want to name the feeling that you think that they were having. You don't want to try to have that conversation in the middle of a tantrum, it is not helpful. They are not hearing you. And it just makes, it just gives positive reinforcement to continue to scream and yell and I will pay attention to you. What you want to do is don't pay attention. Let them calm down, and then go and chat with them about it.
The other thing is, if you know they're tired, and you know they're hungry, that's not a big time to give a big spiel. It's really let them calm down. "Man, you were so upset. I wonder if you're tired. Should we have a nap?" That's it. Leave it at that.
I think the other really important thing to do with young toddlers when they have a tantrum, and it's really any kid of any age, when they have a tantrum, once they're calmed down and you've had a short little debrief about it, make sure you give them a hug and let them know either with words or with your nonverbal communication that you still love them and everything's okay. And eventually the tantrums will calm down.