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Calm in the Storm: Managing Your Child’s Tantrums Effectively

written by Dr. Jennie Gary

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Hi. I’m Doctor Jennie, and welcome to another edition of Kid’s Corner.

Today, we’re going to talk about a challenging topic that all parents face at one time or another: tantrums.

Have you ever been that parent in the middle of a crowded grocery store and your child asked for candy? You say no, and then they proceed to shout, cry, kick, and throw their arms and legs around, drawing attention and judgmental stares from everyone around you.

These moments can be so challenging, but you’re not alone. These aggressive outbursts or tantrums are actually a normal part of child development. All children will have a tantrum at some point.

Why do children have tantrums? Young children may not yet have the skills to express strong emotions in other ways.

A tantrum is a way for your child to show frustration.

If your child has a tantrum, this is not a reflection of your parenting.

Tantrums, again, are a part of normal child development. Tantrums can be more common when a child is afraid, very tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or in need of attention.

During a tantrum, children can cry, yell, swing their arms and legs, but the good news is that tantrums are usually pretty quick. They typically last thirty seconds to a few minutes and are strongest at the start. Sometimes tantrums may last longer and may be stronger.

Children may try to hit, bite, pinch, or throw objects, or they may even throw their own body to the floor.

Some children can even hurt themselves by banging their head against a wall or on the floor. If this type of intense tantrum becomes common, you may need more help from your doctor.

In rare cases, some children can actually have breath-holding spells. If this happens, make an appointment with your doctor to get more help.

So how can you care for your child when they’re having a tantrum? When they go high, you go low. Try to respond calmly and lower your voice.

If you respond with anger, yelling, or frustration, that could actually prolong the tantrum.

When a child is kicking, biting, and pinching, it’s important to make sure your child doesn’t get hurt or hurt anyone else by gently finding them a safe space or moving them away from others.

Some children may need to be held in a gentle hug to keep from hurting themselves or others.

During and after a tantrum, comfort your child without giving in to their demands. Instead, you can try to give them some control over little things by offering choices.

For example, “I won’t let you watch your tablet anymore today. Would you like to play with your toys or color instead?”

If you do give in to your child’s demands, they may eventually determine that if they cry long enough or loud enough, they can get what they want. So, try your best not to give in to a tantrum.

For longer tantrums, you can sometimes try to distract your child by moving to a different room, offering a safe toy, whispering something silly or even singing a song.

Praise your child for calming down and never make fun of your child for a temper tantrum.

Do not use words or phrases like “bad girl” or “bad boy” to describe your child during a tantrum. And do not spank your child. This teaches them the wrong message and may actually reinforce hitting behaviors.

Don’t try to teach them while they’re still in the tantrum. It’s usually not effective. Wait until they have calmed down or talk about the tantrum later on during the day.

Teach your child to handle anger and frustration.

Let your child know that it’s okay to feel angry or frustrated or sad but it’s never okay to hit, bite, or hurt others or themselves.

Offer simple suggestions to help a child learn self-control.

For example, tell your child to use words to express their feelings or to close their eyes and take a deep breath if they’re feeling overwhelmed.

Or you can give your child a safe place where your child can go to calm down for a few minutes.

Praise good behavior often, not just after a tantrum.

And be a good role model. Children learn the most by watching their parents. Set a good example by handling your own frustration calmly.

If you do find yourself feeling overwhelmed during a tantrum, it’s okay to take a brief minute to calm yourself or switch off with another caretaker.

To avoid tantrums in the first place, here are some helpful tips.

Know when your child tends to get hungry and pack healthy snacks if you’re going to be out of the house.

Avoid giving your child too much sugar or fast food as these poor sources of nutrition may contribute to more behavioral issues.

And be aware of your child’s signs of tiredness and offer a nap when needed if they still take one.

Be flexible. Sometimes it’s okay to give in to our children. If your child’s initial request is reasonable and safe, like they ask to read one more book or to wear their favorite shirt to school, then it’s okay to say yes sometimes to avoid that tantrum.

Young children are often looking for control in an effort to build their independence and self-esteem so these small wins can help your child in the long run.

I hope these tips come in handy the next time that a tantrum strikes. I’m Doctor Jennie, and I’ll see you at the next Kid’s Corner.

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