Temper Tantrums

Your toddler’s second temper tantrum of the day shows no signs of stopping, and supersonic, ear-shattering, teeth-jarring screams pierce the air. You’d run away and join the circus if only that were a real option. There must be a better way.

During the kicking-and-screaming chaos of the moment, tantrums can be downright frustrating. But instead of looking at them as catastrophes, treat tantrums as opportunities for education.

Why Kids Have Tantrums

Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. They’re equally common in boys and girls and usually occur between the ages of 1 to 3.

Kids’ temperaments vary dramatically — so some kids may experience regular tantrums, whereas others have them rarely. They’re a normal part of development and don’t have to be seen as something negative. Unlike adults, kids don’t have the same inhibitions or control.

Imagine how it feels when you’re determined to program your DVD player and aren’t able to do it, no matter how hard you try, because you can’t understand how. It’s pretty frustrating — do you swear, throw the manual, walk away, and slam the door on your way out? That’s the adult version of a tantrum. Toddlers are also trying to master their world and when they aren’t able to accomplish a task, they turn to one of the only tools at their disposal for venting frustration — a tantrum.

Several basic causes of tantrums are familiar to parents everywhere:The child is seeking attention or is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. In addition, tantrums are often the result of kids’ frustration with the world — they can’t get something (for example, an object or a parent) to do what they want. Frustration is an unavoidable part of their lives as they learn how people, objects, and their own bodies work.

Tantrums are common during the second year of life, a time when children are acquiring language. Toddlers generally understand more than they can express. Imagine not being able to communicate your needs to someone — a frustrating experience that may precipitate a tantrum. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease.

Another task toddlers are faced with is an increasing need for autonomy. Toddlers want a sense of independence and control over the environment — more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as a child thinks “I can do it myself” or “I want it, give it to me.” When kids discover that they can’t do it and can’t have everything they want, the stage is set for a tantrum.

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