Handling Temper Tantrum: The Worst Nightmare Of A Parent

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Children, especially toddlers, have tantrums as part of their normal development. Find out how to handle temper tantrum — and what you can do about them.

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Suppose you are shopping with your toddler in a market. He or she has spied a treat that you don’t intend to buy. In response to this, their face has turned red. Their fists are pounding the floor in a fury that can be heard in the farthest reaches of the market. The other shoppers are gaping at this spectacle with shock and awe as you wish desperately for a hole to open in the floor and swallow you up.

Many parents face this scenario. In this article, we will provide you the ways to deal with temper tantrums.

What is a temper tantrum?

A temper tantrum is when a child has an unplanned (in most cases) outburst of anger and frustration. Tantrums can be physical, verbal, or both. They come in all shapes and sizes.

They can involve spectacular explosions of anger, frustration, and disorganized behavior – when your child ‘literally loses it’.

Some of the popular tantrum techniques are crying, screaming, stiffening limbs, hitting, thrashing, arched back, kicking, falling down, flailing about, or running away, holding breath, and vomiting.

Why does tantrum happen?

Tantrums are very common in children aged 1-4 years, the early part of which is sometimes called the “terrible 2s” is when kids are still learning how to communicate effectively. Tantrums are a normal part of growing up. A tantrum is the expression of a young child’s frustration with his or her limitations or anger about not being able to get his or her way.

Causes of temper tantrums can include:

  • Frustration.
  • Wanting attention of their parent.
  • Wanting something (such as a treat or toy).
  • Avoiding doing something (such as cleaning up or leaving the park).
  • Hungry.
  • Tired.

A major cause of toddlers’ temper tantrums is the conflict they feel. They seek independence but still crave their parents’ attention. And they haven’t developed coping skills to deal with strong emotions or frustrations and disappointment. Since they often lack the verbal skills to explain how they feel, so they lash out instead. Older children can have tantrums too.

black and white picture of a crying child temper tantrum
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Do children have tantrums on purpose?

Children don’t plan to frustrate or embarrass their parents in the public. For most toddlers, tantrums are a way to express their frustration and conflict. For older children, tantrums might be a learned behavior.

If you reward tantrums with something your child wants — or you allow your child to get out of things by throwing a tantrum — this will reinforce their behavior and the tantrums are likely to continue.

When they occur infrequently for example once or twice a week, then they aren’t a big deal and are best ignored. When it becomes regular or intense then the parents need to look into what’s causing them and find ways to stop them.

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How to handle temper tantrum?

The first step is to keep your calm when responding to a tantrum. You should always resist the temptation to end the tantrum by giving the child what he wants.

Ignore if the outbursts are not dangerous, the goal is to ignore the behavior, to withdraw all parental attention since even negative attention like reprimanding or trying to persuade the child to stop has been found to positively reinforce the behavior. Spanking will not help in any situation.

Kids who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place, stop the behavior by holding him or her until he or she calms down. This also applies to tantrums in public places. When your child quiets down, calmly explain your rules. Praise good behavior.

How to prevent temper tantrums?

There might be no foolproof way to prevent tantrums but you can at least take a few measures in advance.

  • Avoid situations that can trigger tantrumsAvoid situations in which tantrums are likely to erupt. Don’t give your child toys that are far too advanced for him or her. If your toddler acts up in restaurants, choose places that offer quick service.
  • Communicate with your child: Don’t underestimate their ability to understand what you are saying they might surprise you. Explain to them the rules clearly.
  • Be consistent with your routine: Establish a daily routine so that your child knows what to expect “no surprises”. Stick to this routine as much as possible, including nap time and bedtime.
  • Let your child make choices once in a while. Avoid saying no to everything all the time. To give your toddler a sense of control, let him or her make a few choices.
  • Distract: A young child’s attention is fleeting and easy to divert. When your child’s face starts to crinkle and redden in that telltale way, open a book or offer to go on a walk to the park before it can escalate into a full-blown tantrum. Sometimes, humor is the best way to distract. Make a funny face.
  • Praise good behavior. Offer extra attention when your child behaves well. Give your child a bear hug or tell your child how proud you are when he or she shares or follows your directions.

Always remember that tantrums usually aren’t cause for concern and generally stop on their own. It stops when kids start to mature, they gain self-control, they start learning to cooperate, communicate, and cope with frustration and conflict.

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Dr. Ankit Gaur

Dr. Ankit Gaur is a Counsellor and Family Therapist. He is an experienced healthcare professional holding two post-graduate degrees (MSc in Counselling and Family Therapy, and PharmD}. His area of specialization lies in the field of counselling and family therapy covering all types of patients from different age groups such as pediatric, geriatric, adolescents, adults, and marital couples.

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