Just as nightmares are a common problem in children, so too are temper tantrums. In fact, temper tantrums in toddlers are a normal stage of development. There are two types of tantrums and it is important to know the difference, as each type needs to be handled differently. The first is the manipulative tantrum. This type of tantrum typically occurs when a child doesn’t get their way. These are the ones that often happen in the middle of the grocery store when your child yells and screams bloody murder and you want to crawl into a hole and die of embarrassment. You will do almost anything to shut your child up, including giving in to your child. However, this is the absolute worst thing that you can do. Your child is banking on just that reaction. Giving in to your tantrum teaches them, “If I yell and scream and make a scene when I don’t get my way, mom will give me what I want”. Instead, it is important that you:
Be sure to remain calm. The key to handling temper tantrums is to remain calm. Remember that you are modeling behavior for your child. If you throw a tantrum as well, you are teaching your child that it is okay to yell and scream. A good rule of thumb to remember: For every second you remain engaged in a power struggle with your child, you drop in chronological age. You may start out in your mid-twenties, but the longer you argue, the closer to your child’s age you become. With modeling in mind, try taking some deep breaths to calm down.
Empathize while setting clear limits. Explain to the child that if he continues to fuss and scream, he will lose a privilege. This is heard best when the child feels understood. Tell your child “I know you’re upset right now because you can’t get that toy. Acting like this will not get me to change my mind. If you are not able to calm down, you won’t be able to watch TV later”.
Remove the audience. Do not give your child attention for engaging in inappropriate behavior. If you are at home, simply ignore the outburst and let your child cry it out. Go into another room and let your child continue to tantrum without the benefit of an audience. If you are in public, you may need to leave, even if you haven’t finished your shopping. This might mean taking a time out in the car, or leaving the establishment entirely. Leaving a shopping cart full of groceries may be embarrassing and is certainly an inconvenience, but you will see that it means less trouble in the long run. You are showing your child that this behavior is unacceptable and that there are consequences for this type of behavior.
Stick to your guns. Be sure that you enforce whatever limit it is that you set. Even if the child promises to behave better next time or throws another tantrum when you take away the privilege, you must stick to the consequence. This teaches your child that your word can be trusted and that you will be consistent.
Stay tuned for Part II of How to Handle Temper Tantrums in Toddlers on the second type of tantrum- the spillover tantrum