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You are here: Home > Toddlers > Parenting

How to Stop a Temper Tantrum In It's Tracks

by Katlyn Joy | September 20, 2011 2:08 PM
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How to Stop a Temper Tantrum In It's Tracks

Temper tantrums are a normal aspect of toddlerhood. According to the Colorado State University Extension, between 23 and 83% of all children ages 2-4 have at least occasional tantrums. The typical onset for throwing tantrums is 2 years of age and it often subsides after age 4.

While no magic pill exists to cure tantrums effectively managing them while keep them to a minimum. If parents respond in kind to a child's tantrums, out of control behavior can become problematic and long-lasting patterns.

Reasons Toddlers have Tantrums

Basically you can divide tantrums into two categories; manipulative tantrums and overwhelmed tantrums. Manipulative tantrums will reoccur in older children if parents don't respond appropriately and consistently to this behavior. Overwhelmed tantrums can often be minimized or alleviated by controlling situations.

Manipulative tantrums are ones that occur in store aisles frequently, when a child wants something and that want is denied. The tantrum is the child's way of trying to get what he wants. If a parent caves in and gives the child what he wants tantrums will become frequent.

Overwhelmed tantrums often happen due to fatigue, hunger or emotional upset. When you take this initial problem and compound it with some toddler crisis like mom is leaving, it's time for a bath or a friend has to go home you will often see emotional upset. An added frustration is the child's inability to effectively communicate her emotions and desires. The average toddler's speech may be only understood by parents as little as 50% of the time and by other adults even less. Not being able to put into words intense wants or feelings or having your words met with confused gazes by your caregivers is a recipe for tantrums.

Ways to Prevent Temper Tantrums

Planning ahead to prevent tantrums is a good strategy to keep tantrums to a lower frequency. While you won't be able to prevent all tantrums, cutting them down is a big headache reliever for any household.

- Don't let your child get over tired, thirsty or hungry. Use snacks, keep your child hydrated with healthy drinks such as milk and water, and keep a consistent bedtime and naptime.

- Recognize what times of day your child most often has meltdowns and determine what the possible triggers are.

- Make transitions as smooth as possible. Warn your child ahead of time when something is about to occur. For instance, set a timer for five minutes before dinner or bedtime or when it's time to clean up the toys. Using a timer makes it more official and less Mom or Dad's fault in a child's eyes.

- Praise your child whenever he remains in control or quickly regains control in a stressful or difficult situation.

- Teach your child about emotions and help her label them appropriately.

- Model ways to handle difficult situations and explain how you handled it to you child. "See Mommy got upset when the car wouldn't start, but instead of yelling she took a deep breath and tried the key again and it started."

Stopping a Temper Tantrum

- Remain in control yourself. Reflecting a child's negative emotions will only exacerbate the problem. Instead demonstrate a calm demeanor.

- Time outs are an excellent way to give your child a moment to collect himself, plus it gives you a minute to calm down too. Give a minute per year of age.

- Make the consequence for negative behaviors simple and respond promptly to misbehavior. Dragging it out until later will confuse a child.

- Don't lecture during a tantrum. Instead, once the child is calm talk about why the child was upset, labeling the correct emotion, and discuss what other options the child had in handling it. "I know you were upset that your friend took your toy but instead of throwing a tantrum you could let him play with it for a few minutes then took turns playing."

- Help your child put the emotions into words. This will help her build her communication skills and reassure her that you do understand and care which may be enough to diffuse a tantrum.

- Never ever give in to end a tantrum. This only reinforces in a child's mind that this is an excellent way to get what you want.

- Stay physically close to a child during a tantrum and offer a hug. Don't force the issue however. Ask your child if he'd like some quiet time to calm down.

- Never criticize a child for having anger. Teach a child that emotions even ones like anger are OK, but we can't break the rules just because we're mad.

- If a child destroys property or breaks another rule during a tantrum, apply a consequence only after the tantrum has ended. If he threw a toy or spit on a friend, tell him that he lost his favorite tv show for the evening after he has regained control. Telling him during the tantrum will only lengthen the outburst.

- Use a quiet but firm voice when talking to a child mid-tantrum.

- If an older toddler is having a manipulative tantrum, stay nearby but don't engage the child beyond saying no or explaining the rule. Don't give attention beyond that which is required for the situation. Some older toddlers have tantrums to attempt to gain attention or control. Don't allow that to work.


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