Solace Blog


Tantrums In Toddlers

We have all seen, heard, or experienced a temper tantrum from a young child in our lives.  Whether it is the screaming child on the airplane, the child sitting in the middle of the sidewalk refusing to get up or move, or the little one that doesn’t want the food that was served and is making a scene, these things can be distressing for everyone involved.  The good news is, that while tantrums can be uncomfortable situations, they are generally a communication attempt by the child, and offer an opportunity for growth and learning for both the child and their parents.  Having a little more understanding about what could be happening and having a few tricks or strategies to help minimize their impact can help children develop their communication skills so they are better able to speak about their needs.  Let’s take a look at some of the causes and some potential solutions.

What Causes Kids to Have Tantrums?

Often, tantrums stem from the lack of ability to communicate feelings. When a baby is only one or two, they do not have the language capabilities to let you know that they are hungry, tired or that they need their diaper changed. For this reason, tantrums erupt because they are one of the only methods they know.

 of to get attention and have their needs met. As they get a little older, tantrums may still erupt from a lack of proper communication skills, but it also shifts into a way for the child to assert some type of power or control. During the ages of three or four, children become more independent but may also get overwhelmed by this new level of stimulation that comes with interacting with the world more. When they have a tantrum, it may be a way of gaining control by getting the parent’s attention to gain reassurance that things are still safe.            

In either motivation, it in no way shows a failure or criticism on the parent’s part but merely a natural way in which babies and toddlers develop. Tantrums are not necessarily something that needs to be “fixed” but more of a developmental behavior that has to be addressed and the child ages so that healthy communication habits are formed and tantrums do not end up becoming standard practice for the child to get what they want.

Can Tantrums Be Prevented?

While tantrums are natural, there is no question that they can often come at the most inopportune times. There is no parent who wants to deal with a screaming child on an airplane or in the middle of a restaurant. For these times, prevention may be the best option. If possible, understand your child’s triggers. Do they get cranky if they don’t get a nap at a certain time? Try and maintain that schedule on the go by having their favorite blankie and a bedtime story on hand. Do they need constant things to do? Pack an activity book and color it with them. Do they get hungry when they don’t eat every few hours? Have snacks to keep them from getting too grouchy. Being able to distract your child when confronted with unfamiliar people and settings can go a long way in keeping a potential meltdown at bay.

How to Address Tantrums When They are Occurring

Sometimes, no matter what you do, a tantrum is going to happen. In these cases, don’t panic! Here are some ways to get things back into a stable place.

Make sure that you and your child are safe

Whether at home or out in a public setting, the first and most important thing that must be done is to ensure the safety of you, your child, and anyone surrounding you. For example, if a tantrum occurs in a shop full of breakables or in the middle of a crosswalk, the number one priority is finding a safe place out of harm’s way, no matter how much the child resists being picked up and moved. Once everyone has been removed from any type of precarious situation, then the tantrum itself can be addressed.

Set boundaries calmly

It’s completely understandable how it would be easy to panic when your child has a meltdown, especially when in public, but it’s important to try and stay calm because getting upset and raising your voice can end up creating a bigger problem. If the child is showing physical aggression such as hitting or kicking then calmly but firmly let them know that you will not tolerate this behavior. Explain to them that it’s ok to have feelings but it is not ok to hurt others or themselves. If the tantrum is more vocal with screaming and crying then a tone of compassion can be more beneficial and sometimes even a hug can do a lot to diffuse the situation.

Try to find the root of the tantrum

Sometimes the root of a tantrum is very obvious such as when you tell a child they can’t have any more sweets or a toy breaks, but other instances may seem to come out of nowhere which can often confuse and frustrate parents. It’s difficult to come up with a solution when you have yet to figure out the problem! In order to better understand why your child is upset it can be helpful to ask what emotions they are feeling. Are they mad, sad, or tired? Do they feel scared? It may be hard for them to express the exact thing that is upsetting them but a better understanding of the emotion can give enough information to help soothe them.

Have a plan in place

One positive that comes with every tantrum is the opportunity to better understand a child’s triggers and what types of techniques work to help calm future tantrums. Some kids really respond to touch and may just need a hug while others can be overstimulated and simply require a time out in a quiet environment. Once you have an idea of what is helpful, you can create a plan and a sort of toolkit to have on hand in case you see a tantrum coming on. Things such as snacks, sensory toys, or even a blanket to snuggle can possibly cut the time of a meltdown dramatically and help the child move past distressing emotions.

Follow through with any original requests

Once the storm begins to subside, it is incredibly important to follow up with any demands that were made before or during the tantrum. This means if the child had a tantrum because you insisted that they clean up a mess before playing with another toy, they still need to clean up the first mess. If the child learns that a tantrum can be a way of getting out of whatever action they were rebelling against, it is going to reinforce the behavior meaning that future attempts to tame the tantrum will become that much more difficult. When you follow through with the original request, it sets healthy boundaries that show that they still need to do what is being asked of them even if it originally upset them.

Don’t give the tantrum too much attention once under control

Just as you want to follow through with any demands previously made, you also want to refrain from giving the tantrum as a whole too much attention. This is because just as with letting them off on bad behavior, giving it too much attention also reinforces the belief that causing a scene is the way for them to get their needs met. By letting it go without too much effort, it teaches the child that this is not the way for them to win the battle.

When Are Tantrums a Causes For Concern?

As previously stated, tantrums are a common and natural part of a child’s development, however, there may be some things that can be cause for concern and could require the help of a specialist. Some things to look out for include:

  • Consistent aggressive behavior such as hitting or kicking
  • Tantrums becoming more consistent or lasting longer
  • Not being able to get any cooperation at all from your child
  • Tantrums that seem to be triggered by medical issues such as consistent earaches or a general issue of not feeling well.

In these cases, it is probably best to talk with the child’s pediatrician to set up some evaluations to see if there is a larger overall problem that needs to be addressed.

How Solace Helps Address the Behaviors Behind Tantrums

If it seems like your child’s tantrums are going a little beyond what has been outlined above, if there are some definite behavior issues that have been ingrained, or if there are developmental issues that could be hampering your child’s progress in this area, working with some type of professional therapist can be helpful.  This may be a behavioral therapist, an occupational, or even a speech therapist depending on the situation and conditions involved.  Solace Pediatric Home Healthcare offers a unique solution to these situations by having the therapist come to your home or your child’s school.  Undergoing therapy in a familiar location, can cut down on the anxiety or apprehension that your child may feel from going to a doctor’s office, and avoid more tantrums.  Being in the home environment also allows the practitioner to speak with the family, get more information about behaviors, triggers, and the family dynamic, as well as get the family members involved with any corrective reinforcement, therapeutic techniques, or observations.  Additionally, having the therapist come to you also can dramatically reduce the time needed to take time off of work or school, getting the child ready, travel time, and more.  If you feel that your child could benefit from an in-home or in-school practitioner, please feel free to reach out to us today.

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