After my daughter had a little outburst this afternoon, I started to reflect on temper tantrums and the terrible twos stage. I will be the first to admit, I know very little in this area. She just recently turned 18 months and we have had a few incidents now that I would call “tantrums”. This is unchartered territory for me and it has me pretty spooked. I know this is just the beginning and that we will have some major blow ups later on. That is just part of normal development and something every parent will deal with at one point or another. I totally get that, but I can’t help feeling like there has to be a way to prepare.
I have read articles, books, and other blogs regarding how to deal with tantrums and there were a few common themes in all that I would like to share. Mostly as a reminder to myself when times get frustrating, but also, because maybe it will help you out too!
1) Have realistic expectations. This greatly has to deal with your child’s age and developmental stage. According to Early Intervention Support, “If you have unrealistic expectations of your toddler’s attention span, it can often lead to temper tantrums and other upsetting behavior.”
The average attention span by age group:
8-15 Months> 1-2 minutes (on a single toy or activity)
16-19 Months> 2-3 minutes
20-24 Months> 3-6 minutes
25-36 Months> 5-8 minutes (and can split attention between directions and activity)
3-4 Years> 8-10 minutes
I try to keep this in mind as well when running errands or going on car trips. I try to limit outings with my daughter to no more than 2 stops. She can only tolerate so many things in one period of time.
2) Know your child’s triggers. This is a big one for me. Since my daughter was only several months old, if you deprived her of sleep or food she would go crazy. It is still true to this day. In fact the couple of times she has tantrumed within the last month were due to the fact that she was hungry. Due to the fact that she still has limited verbal ability, she doesn’t always succeed at telling me things directly. She gets frustrated, and when I still don’t understand, we go into full blown tantrum mode. I try my best to understand her, but there are always going to be those times where I just don’t get what she wants. It helps to at least try and see if she is hungry or desperately needs a nap (even if it isn’t normal nap time). Also, illness or some kind of major change also may be the culprit.
3) Don’t escalate things by reacting negatively. Obviously, shouting at your child or spanking them during a tantrum is only going to make matters worse. Ignoring tantrum-like behavior works sometimes, but in cases similar to my daughter, it may make things worse. For example, my daughter cries and gets upset because she is frustrated over trying to communicate something to me. Ignoring her just makes her more frustrated. If she could speak in sentences she would probably say, “Mom, you aren’t listening to what I am saying!” So I would advise using the “ignoring” technique only if the situation calls for it. Basically, you don’t want to make them even more frustrated.
4) Pick your battles. You just can’t spend all your time trying to win a power struggle. You will quickly run out of energy and become very frustrated yourself! Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not telling you to give in to your child’s demands if they are throwing a tantrum. But you might not always want to punish or give a consequence. Sometimes, it is better to move on to something else.
I will use myself as an example. I am trying to teach my 18 month old daughter to use her words, whether they be verbal, or sign language. Basically, I don’t want her to whine or cry when she wants something. Well she wanted something out of the fridge and I wanted her to tell me either “open” or sign “eat”. But she just stood there and whined. I kept asking her to tell me what she wanted, but she didn’t. Then she started to cry. I decided to walk away and ignore the crying. Well it only got louder and worse. Then I thought, I need to punish this tantrum-like behavior, so I put her in her room. I was thinking this would get her to stop because she would want to be with me. In past situations, this form of a “time out” has worked fairly quickly with her.
This time? Nope. Just got worse. She was to the point where she was scream-crying. I was sitting outside of her room with the door open and she came to me and desperately wanted me to hug her. (How could I resist?) We had hit somewhere around the 15 minute mark at this point. I had to make a decision at this point, stick to my guns and let her keep crying, or call it good and try to move on. I did the latter. I got her something to eat, sat her in her high chair, and she ate while recovering after all the crying she had done.
In retrospect, this was one of those times I probably should have picked my battle. Or at the very least, known that she was probably hungry (which is a major trigger for her), and gotten her something to eat. I felt badly for letting her frustration get so escalated, but in the end, she won’t hold a grudge. As moms, we need to forgive ourselves for those times when we maybe don’t do our best. After all, there is no manual. We learn on the job. If we make mistakes, we just need to learn from them and move on. Our kids certainly do. 🙂
5) Try to teach your child tools to use when upset/frustrated. So I am sure my family is tired hearing about the show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS. But I am sorry. I love it! And so does my daughter. Which is why I have seen all the episodes of the first season probably 5 times (thank you Netflix). Anyways, I really like it because it is based on Mr. Roger’s Neigborhood, so some of the characters and stuff are the same, but the main character is this cute little tiger named Daniel who learns a lesson in each episode. Instead of the lessons being “academic”, they are geared more towards building character and developing every day/social skills. One of the things I like most about it is that there will be a little song that goes with each lesson.
Anyways, (sorry for the tangent) my point in bringing up Daniel Tiger is that the little songs they have are tools that I feel help kids deal with situations. My 18 month old gets frustrated because she has difficulty communicating sometimes, so I try to teach her as many words as possible. And when she can’t verbally say what she needs, maybe she can sign or gesture. I feel that teaching her some basic baby sign has really helped her feel like she can be successful communicating. For kids that are a little older, and more verbal, possibly having them take some time away and then learning how to talk about what they are feeling. Again, often times these tantrums evolve out of frustration. Helping them communicate is key. Children need to felt heard/understood. Try and give them that opportunity.
What are ways that you deal with tantrums?