Your toddler is feeling exasperated because he just can’t wear the color blue on a Wednesday. It’s the fourth Wednesday in a row and it’s now become a huge fiasco because your car is blue and, of course, your irrational little jalapeno believes that getting into the car actually means wearing it. So he proceeds to throw himself on the floor and screams blue murder, so loud that the neighbors are peeking inquisitively out of their windows. You happen to see the elderly ladies shaking their heads as they walk by.
These volcanic outbursts are typically characterized by plenty of screaming, crying, whining and even sometimes kicking, pushing, banging or falling. It can feel like a few minutes of utter chaos (If you’re lucky) and if you’re not; a few hours of sheer desperation. It’s enough to turn your blood cold, and boil it at the same time. It can be vexing to say the least, and you’re not alone in feeling like you just want to run out of the door and never look back again. Almost every parent feels this way, at least once.
So Why Does A Toddler Throw Tantrums?
It’s easy to think “but why?” or “why me?” Indeed, it may seem like your tot has it in for you, or that he feels you’re a terrible person and he’s wholeheartedly disappointed that you are his parent. However, this is absolutely not the case. In fact, it might surprise you to hear that your little one is probably astounded at his own behavior too, but simply has no control over the outbursts.
Recent theories concentrate less on the child’s emotional inabilities and more on the child’s developing brain. These theories suggest that temper tantrums in young children are actually a vital part of the growth process. While we’ve surmised this for quite some time, the focus has mostly been on how to stop a tantrum, and not so much on allowing the emotional connections to develop.
Now, scientist and psychologists are looking to the brain for the answers to temper tantrums. The following insightful video about parenting the triune brain by Carrie Contey goes on to explain that at birth, a child’s brain is wired at its most primal setting: survival. As the child grows, the neurons connect to build emotional understanding. And the last stage of development is when the neurons in the neocortex begin connecting in order to build rational thinking, empathy, understanding, and logic. This happens much later and is developed over time.
So what this all suggests is that a child’s temper tantrum is not always the result of bad behavior itself. It’s more likely an immature response to a confusing, overwhelming or even exciting emotional experience. It might seem strange to an adult, a young child can find interesting things to fuss about (as one dad points out) however, the young child’s thought process is not yet grounded in experience as an adult’s is. Apart from the strange and wonderful things that can set a child off, there are a few basic needs that can also trigger an outburst. Identifying and understanding whether some of these might be the cause can help you prevent and lower the tantrum ratio in the long run.
1. Your Child’s Eating Habits
Often a fit of rage comes about because of hunger. It may seem like a silly thing to say because naturally as a good parent you do feed your child 3 good meals a day. However, as every person’s diet needs are different, it may be worthwhile checking to see if adding a few snacks in between the major meals will help to keep your tot calmer. It’s also a good idea to check for allergies. If your little one is not feeling 100% because of a food-related allergy, it could very well be adding fuel to the fire.
2. Your Child’s Sleeping Habits
Is your child getting enough sleep? Alternately, could he be getting too much sleep? Anyone who doesn’t get enough sleep is going to be cranky, and indeed, even adults have been known to throw tantrums of epic proportions. It’s called losing one’s temper.
3. Physical And Emotional Hindrances
Is your child uncomfortable? Does he have pain, or is he ill? This will most certainly add to the probability of a tantrum. Is your child overwhelmed? This is something most parents overlook in their children. Often the child’s character type is not the same as the parent’s and, therefore, the parent may not understand the child’s feeling in that moment. To some children, too much stimulus can be agony, to others, that same stimulation can equal extreme excitement. Essentially, both of these could elicit a tantrum. Your little one hasn’t yet developed the emotional capability to deal with the sheer explosiveness of the experience he’s having.
The Hard Part; How To Deal (Or Not Deal) With Temper Tantrums
Taking into consideration your child’s physical inability to connect the emotional stimulus to the correct mature response will be a good place to start. This allows you an objective outlook on the problem. Remember, your tot has just arrived in his own mind and needs you to guide him successfully through the landmines that may be waiting for him.
Ignore The Actual Fit
Your tot is vying for your attention. Not only does he feel frustrated about what he wants and can’t have, or doesn’t want but must have, he wants you to know it too. Seasoned moms suggest walking away. When the child’s anger has peaked and turned into sadness, use that moment to comfort your child but remain firm and unyielding in your decision over whatever it was that sent him into the fit in the first place.
Model The Correct Responses
What better time to do this than when your child is mid-frenzy? This is by no means an immediate fix and some children take longer than others to pick up on modeled behavior. However, the long-term advantages are worth the patience and the effort and will lay the foundation for respect and trust within your child.
Work On Your Child’s Communication Skills
Helping your child develop language skills can be extremely beneficial for both of you. Once your child has started talking, guide the conversations to abstract feelings. So, when your child is concerned about wearing the color blue on a Wednesday, try asking him why he feels that way. What changed his mind about the color blue? He might say he doesn’t know, but it will get him thinking about it. If he has deeper emotions tied to it, like being teased about a blue item of clothing, or being forced to wear it when he didn’t want to, then it will be good to go right to the root of the problem. Often communication can help re-direct your little one’s irrational feelings by shedding some light on why he is feeling them in the first place.
Anticipate And Channel
Looking out for the signs of a temper tantrum can help you channel negative energy into something constructive even before it happens. It’s not always easy to spot a tantrum as some of them are truly spontaneous, but do your best to be ready with some creative detours.
By no means do any of these methods suggest enabling the child to do as he pleases. It’s always a good idea to see tantrums as part of your child’s learning process. Help him find his way successfully to the correct set of actions and set up good habits for him to follow before making the determination that his behavior indeed needs punishment.
A Few Things That Will Help You Deal With Your Own Emotions
- Don’t Become Emotionally Entangled In The Tantrum. You are not always the cause of the tantrum, even if it seems that way. The actual cause of the fit is your child’s larger-than-life feelings and the frustration that goes with those thoughts.
- Keep Calm. Patience and serenity can help you overcome many obstacles. A shrieking child included. Plus, it may actually calm the child down to see your composed disposition. Don’t bet on it though, but it certainly is worth the try and will keep you from tiring out too quickly.
- Look For The Humor In The Situation. There must be something funny in the situation? Perhaps your child is distraught because his book smells of paper. Or his spoon is not a fork. It’s not a good idea to laugh in front of your child while he’s upset, as this is very serious stuff to him, mom. But it will be good for keeping your own frustration at bay.
- Try Looking At The Situation Through Your Child’s Eyes. Whatever problem your child has at that moment, the frustration is likely debilitating. Think of a time when you’ve been deeply aggravated…what was your response? As adults, we tend to feel that children who have no responsibilities and no worries also have no reason to be frustrated, but it’s simply not so. By seeing things from your child’s perspective, you might find the core of his problem and be able to offer a long-lasting solution. It will also take your mind off the injustice of the screeching and give you a constructive outlet for your own frustration.
Difference Between Normal And Not-So-Normal Tantrum Behavior
While tantrums are considered to be a normal and expected part of development, there are definite red flags when it comes to toddler rages. The indicators for behavior considered to be abnormal can help you a great deal when you’re not sure if your little one is just being tricky, or has a serious underlying problem.
Aggression that is directed either toward the child himself, the parent or caregiver, or friends and the surrounding environment (i.e, the dog, a tree or a toy) can be a sure sign something is out of whack. It may be a good idea to consult a professional or look into the underlying cause of the aggression. If your little one struggles with severe anger, try to find ways that can positively channel his fury. Keep your little one fit and healthy, and offer plenty of opportunities for doing things he loves. If he loves crafts, for example, let him paint with his hands and get messy. His fascination may turn to frustration at times, but try to keep the activities age-appropriate and to his level of ability.
Frequency And Duration
If that tantrum goes on for an extended amount of time, it’s likely something is amiss. The average “normal” tantrum is about 3 minutes. It is still considered normal for a child to go on screaming for much longer though. It becomes a problem if this happens too frequently. Your child is likely to kick up a lot of dust at least a few times a day, but a full on tantrum should certainly not be the go-to method each and every time.
External Soothing Required
Most children are able to soothe themselves after a tantrum and will go on as if nothing ever happened. However, a child’s inability to soothe himself is definitely a cause for alarm doctors say. It’s also not the easiest situation for you as a parent as you’ll be spending extended amounts of time and energy on removing your child from tantrum-inducing situations and calming him down.
So, whatever your method as a parent, always remember that your toddler is making his first steps toward becoming self-sufficient. He wants to walk the walk and talk the talk just like mom and dad. It’s your privilege to guide him and build the bridges he needs to cross connect his emotions to his responses. Often times, this can be achieved with a positive outlook and a firm and unmovable stance. And remember, in just a few short months, your screaming tot will magically transform into a helpful and sincere little person and you’ll be left wondering what all the fuss was about.