Temper tantrums: How to cope and keep your cool.
Temper tantrums come in all shapes and sizes.
From those very first toddler tantrums to the older child crying tantrums, these emotional outbursts can involve spectacular explosions of anger, frustration and upset, that can leave even the most chilled parent feeling on edge.
The common tantrum can be anything from kicking or throwing to full on screaming, throwing themselves on the floor, or running away. In some cases, children hold their breath or vomit, but more on that later.
So how do we cope with tantrums and what the best advice for coping and keeping our cool as parents? Let’s start by looking at why tantrums happen.
Why do tantrums happen?
Tantrums are very common in children aged 1-3 years. Temper tantrums happen for many reasons, but mainly, (toddlers in particular,) it’s about not getting what they want, or their lack of communication. During the toddler years your little one is at an age where communication is still developing, and this can cause them terrible frustration and upset when they can’t explain what they want.
Tiredness, hunger, boredom, overstimulation, upset, jealousy, worry, stress and separation anxiety are also contributory factors of tantrums.
How can I avoid temper tantrums?
Look again through the list of reasons above, why your child may tantrum, and reassure yourself that you’d have to be super-lucky to not experience a few tantrums during your parenting journey!
To make tantrums less likely, reduce the causes as much as possible and identify the triggers. Talk about big feelings, and while it’s totally OK and normal to have those feelings, it’s not OK to lash out at others or break things. These conversations can be had quite early on – but go by your own child’s stage of development.
Plan your days well! Routine is the magic key here, so if your toddler usually naps in the afternoon – maybe avoid the supermarket shop or toddler group if they’re shattered. Tiredness and tantrums go hand in hand!
Preparation is key! Prepare your child for activities in advance. Let them know where you are going and what you are doing so they have the chance to understand. Always give a five minute warning when a particular activity is going to end. Little ones cant accept ‘its time for tea’ RIGHT NOW’ when they are building a tower or looking at their favourite TV show, or ‘it’s bedtime’ without an advance warning.
The tantrum still may occur, but by giving them a warning, they are processing it already and are far less likely to kick off with advanced notice.
Sharing is caring! Encourage your little one to share as soon as you can. Socialise your little ones at play groups and clubs so they become accustomed to sharing toys and taking turns. There will no doubt be squabbles and upsets on occasions, but by encouraging sharing from the baby years – you’ll soon be setting off to stress free playdates! Look at books about sharing and play games together that require taking it in turns. For older children – play board games together and activities that incorporate ‘taking turns’.
Set a good example! Children, especially younger ones, follow examples, so ensure those around you behave in a positive way. If an older sibling behaves in a certain way (or even adults throwing tantrums) they will copy. Talk to older children about setting a good example and how important it is to behave well around their younger sibling who is still learning. If you are a bit of a stropper when little things go wrong – check your behaviour around your little one.
Tantrums past the toddler years: Older children can have tantrums too, but this is usually because they haven’t yet learned more appropriate ways to express or manage their feelings in an appropriate way. Remember, they are still learning – even the 9 year old epic tantrum-thrower needs guidance and love to help deal with big emotions. Getting them write down their thoughts is a great way of understanding what they are feeling. My bestselling kids journals are available here and can really help.
Please do cut yourself some slack when things go wrong. Even me with all my years experience and qualifications, have kids who have thrown the odd wobble here and there, and some pretty epic temper tantrums during the toddler years!
Need more reassurance? Have a listen to Kate here in episode 4 of The Regular Parent Podcast sharing her wise words and sound advice about the toddler years.
How do I deal with temper tantrums?
Breathe. You got this!
Keep calm! As frustrating as it is when kids go off like a little rocket – it’s important to stay chill. Getting cross will only fuel the fire and escalate the emotions. Take some deep breaths and wait a moment if you are feeling particularly wound up. Remind yourself they’re not doing this to purposely annoy you – they are little and can’t control that fire in their tummy!
Wait out the big fireball moment and stay close to them so they know you are there. Don’t offer words of wisdom or give a telling off – if the tantrum is in full swing it is pointless. Save the talking for when they have calmed down and are open to listening.
Use your judgment: Don’t feel like a failure if you give in to the tantrum sometimes for an easy life. Use your own judgment when they are little. Remember though – frequent caving in sends the message that tantrums work to get their own way. Having said this – don’t be tempted to give in if it’s not safe to do so, for example, if they don’t want to hold your hand by the busy road or they want to climb to the top of the big climbing frame but are still really young.
Take time out. When a child has lost control, are fighting, hurting or biting another child it is important to remove them from that situation so they can calm down and think about what has happened and how they are feeling. It’s also super-helpful for you if you are in public and gives you both time to calm down and take control of the situation without an audience.
You don’t have to use a ‘naughty step’ it can be as simple as moving them into a safe place, perhaps even another room with you while they calm down. A nice calming cuddle with them away from the situation is often key to calming down while talking about those big feelings.
If they have hurt someone, don’t demand they apologise until they have calmed down and don’t force the issue.
Distraction can help! If you see a situation arising that’s going to lead to a temper tantrum (like fighting over a toy at playgroup for example,) get in there quick and intervene and distract! For everyday situations such as getting dressed, or bath-times that they may have suddenly started tantruming over – invent a new fun way of doing that particular activity! Make a game out of it.
I know we are all in a rush most days, but you’ll actually be saving time and energy and a lot of upset by taking the time to do things differently.
Try baby sign! Younger children in particular can get frustrated easily when communication skills are not yet fully developed. Look into using ‘baby sign’ to help with communication. I wrote my Childhood and Youth Studies Degree dissertation on the ‘benefits of using sign language with hearing children.‘ and learned so much about it.
Baby sign is distinct from sign language as it’s used by hearing parents with hearing children to improve communication. It involves simple, enhanced gestures signs that infants are taught in conjunction with spoken words. It can really help reduce tantrums and frustration and help develop language skills too. I used basic signs (together with the spoken words) that included ‘hungry’ and ‘milk/drink’ and ‘thank-you/please’ with my little ones and it worked absolute wonders!
Breath holding: This can be pretty scary to witness for a parent – especially when it happens for the first time, but it is more common than you may think. Breath-holding is when a child stops breathing by holding their breath. They can often hold it up to one minute and may faint. It happens with some little ones when they are frightened, upset, angry, or are shocked or in pain.
They may turn blue, go limp or open their mouth as if to cry but no sound comes out. In young children they don’t usually do it on purpose and it is often a reaction out of their control.
While this is happening – comfort your child, stay calm, sit with them and reassure them in a calm voice. If they faint – put them on their side and keep reassuring them.
Call 999 if: Your little one faints for the first time, if they have not had these episodes before, if they faint but do not come around, are shaking and jerking (seizure) or are not breathing.
Seek medical help if your child is ‘breath holding’ frequently and you have concerns.
Breath holding is worrying to witness, but please be assured it is usually harmless and your little one will grow out of it by the time they are 4 or 5.
You have honestly got this!
I know somedays you’ll feel totally useless and overwhelmed – but always remember that tantrums are totally normal and you are doing a great job, and the best you can in an extremely stressful situation.
If you have any concerns about your child’s behaviour and feel that there is more to it than ‘just a tantrum’, it’s advisable to seek some advice from a medical professional.
If things really get out of control, if there are more than two or three temper tantrums each day, or the tantrums are very aggressive or intense, it is advisable to pop to your GP for a chat about your concerns.
If you want to chat further or want more tips like these – follow me over on the socials below, where I share daily tips and ideas to make parenting that little bit more chilled.
“Children start developing ‘self-regulation’ from around 12 months. This is the ability to manage and understand behaviour and actions. As children get older, they learn more and more how to regulate these reactions and are able to calm themselves down when something upsetting happens. This is why the older children get – the less tantrums they have.”