Tantrums are a normal part of a child’s development. Children of all ages have tantrums as a way to convey their frustration or out of an inability to express themselves. Tantrums can also be milestones in your little one’s development. As frustrating as these outbursts can be, it’s completely normal behavior and should be expected.
Once a child is 3 years old, they should begin to learn self-soothing skills. If you find yourself witnessing your kiddo in a full-on tantrum, slow down and reassess your day-to-day activities. Ask yourself when the last time they ate was or if they are getting enough sleep. While toddlers need anywhere from 11-14 hours of sleep to function, school-aged children need 10-13 hours per night. Where does your child fall on that spectrum? Perhaps it’s time to do some quick math and change their bedtime to prevent future meltdowns.
When your child provokes you, they may be learning about conflict and authority. Keep your cool and do not respond in anger. Remember, your little one is learning about the world and how to behave in it; responding with an adult-sized tantrum will simply reinforce to them that the behavior is appropriate. If your toddler starts to melt down, redirect their attention. Walking away will cause them more anxiety, so be sure to stay with them to make sure they know they are safe and loved.
Be a calming force for them, showing them deep breathing techniques to help them calm themselves down.
Once a child is school aged, they begin to experience unfamiliar emotions that could potentially lead to a meltdown. Talk with your kiddo and let them know while it is OK to be angry, it’s not OK to throw things or physically attack anyone.
Formulate a plan ahead of time so they are aware of what to do before the tantrum begins. Ensure that their room is their safe place to calm down and once they are sent there, they are to do so. Make sure they know they can color, read or listen to music, and you will allow them to come out once everyone has cooled off.
When you notice your child getting upset, remind them of your tantrum plan and send them to their room. When you see your preteen or teenager melting down, understand that it’s about power and possibly negative elf-talk; teenagers are often focused on how unfair life is to them and can respond by being completely unmanageable. During this time, it’s ill-advised to dole out consequences as their behavior will simply become more rageful. Instead, separate yourself from your angry teen and allow them to wear themselves out: Provide them with art supplies or a journal to write in so they can vent their frustrations. Encourage them to go for a run or call a friend to express their feelings in a healthy way. You can come together to discuss what happened once everyone has their wits about them.
BY KERRY HART, LLMFT