All kids (and many adults…) experience tantrums, although they are most common during the toddler period. Understanding the motives behind the tantrums can be useful when learning to diffuse and prevent them. Having raised three toddlers, and educating many adolescents, I know a little something about tantrums and how to handle them.
Regardless of age, we’re all more grouchy when tired. Kids find it much harder to think rationally when sleepy and can end up getting more frustrated by minor things. And honestly, same. It doesn’t help that kids try to resist sleep, even though I wish someone would put me down for a nap immediately thank you. To prevent sleepy-time tantrums, try to plan days around naps and create a calming bedtime routine. If you can help it, try to avoid sugar and too much excitement just before bed. If you’re the parent who starts wrestling matches five minutes before shut-eye, WHY.
Just like me, kids can get ‘hangry.’ Aside from making sure kids are well fed, you need to also teach kids patience. Consider creating a schedule when it comes to snacks and meals to manage expectations. If kids get impatient when preparing meals, consider planning activities in advance that will keep them occupied. Or just tell them to wait. Kids don’t hear that enough today. Also, don’t give in by feeding them snacks right before meals. If you’re out and about, prepare thyself by having something on hand in case your out and about-ness overlaps with feeding time. You’ll be so proud of yourself for being prepared!
Young kids can be easily overstimulated and this may lead to tantrums. In places with lots of sounds and sights and smells, you need to watch out for when kids start looking tired or irritated – or alternatively start acting hyperactive. Lookin’ at you, travel tantrums. You’re expensive and hella inconvenient. Getting the littles to take time out from play and relax in a quiet spot can help them calm down and is a good way to either prevent or diffuse a tantrum.
Lack of control
Many kids (and adults…hi) have themselves a little fit when they are not in control. It’s important to remember that kids can easily get immersed in what we consider silly games or may become fixated on temptations like the ice cream truck or toy aisle. Remember what it’s like to be a kid and give them some grace. Giving a warning before dragging them away from fun and temptations may help prevent tantrums. That said, there will be times when this isn’t possible and in these cases you’ll just have to teach them that what Mick Jagger says is true: you can’t always get what you want. This, of course, may lead to unavoidable tantrums, but such is life. Oh and for the adorably infuriating ‘I do it myself’ phase, this article has more advice. Godspeed.
Lack of positive attention
For many kids, negative attention is better than no attention. Kids may continuously go off the rails just so you notice them. This likely leads to you continuously correcting them or yelling, which eventually escalating into a tantrum. Regularly check in on your kids when they seem to be getting bored and try to offer positive attention such as playing games or asking them fun questions or finding fun ways for them to help you with chores. Bottom line: being present is the best present we can give our kids.
If tantrums seem irrational – even for a young child – it may be possible that they have an underlying condition. ADHD and autism can both increase the risk of tantrums or meltdowns. If tantrums seem to be happening a lot over small things, look out for other abnormalities in behavior. It’s possible your child may benefit from seeing a medical professional. Behavioral therapy may be the key to preventing tantrums, but this may only be accessible with a diagnosis. Advocate for your child and what you think they need.
Inability to express oneself
Many toddler tantrums are caused by an inability to communicate. I have felt this way in Mexico. A child may have trouble putting their feelings or needs into words and your inability to understand them may lead to a tantrum. Try to exercise patience in these instances; we’ve all been there–we’re probably just too old to remember! Rather than dismissing your child, try to get them to speak slower and more calmly. And don’t give up on them. Never give up on a child who is trying to communicate with you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’m in need of a nap.