How to Stop a Temper Tantrum Quickly
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I'm going to assume that if you're reading this, you're like a lot of parents in that dealing with with tantrums is one of the most challenging things to figure out. And for good reason!
Tantrums can wear us as parents, and feel defeating. On top of that, it doesn't feel good to see our child be that upset (and especially when it doesn't make sense!). And for the child, tantrums can be really confusing too.
Keep reading to learn new information about tantrums and what to do to stop a temper tantrum.
What is a tantrum?
Do you find your child’s tantrums hard to parent through? You’re not alone. It’s one of the most common mom challenges for parents of young children.
You will learn how to parent through a tantrum and, most importantly, how to prevent and stop a tantrum.
Tamper tantrum meaning and why they happen
A tantrum is a response to a situation where the response is not proportional to the problem. Basically, it’s “extra" (but developmentally appropriate!).
A tantrum is an extreme episode of frustration or anger. It’s like the Karen response in a toddler size.
Tantrums are considered normal behavior for a young child. So, good news! If your child is hitting, biting, screaming, yelling, whining, holding her breath, etc, when she doesn’t like something that happened, she’s normal! (I know that doesn’t necessarily help, but keep reading to learn what to do when your child has a tantrum)
What happens during a temper tantrum?
There are no standards when it comes to having a tantrum. It could be as simple as whining or as extra as banging head and breathe holding. But the average length of a tantrum is three minutes, and on average, a tantrum happens once a day.
Are temper tantrums normal?
Temper tantrums often begin before a child turns one year old. It’s most common in younger children - 87% of 18 to 24-month-olds, 91% of 30 to 36-month-olds, and 59% of 42 to 48-month-olds.
So, does this mean that the temper tantrum stage ends after 48 months? Is that the magical age that all peace comes to moms of young children?
Sorry, no. A child that has never had a tantrum can start having them as late as the age of four years old. And older children also have tantrums; they are just different from when two years old (sometimes not that much).
The medical community does consider tantrums to be a regular “right of passage” into toddlerhood. And here’s why tantrums are not abnormal: a young child doesn’t have the words to express their feelings, so they show them in all the ways they know how to use.
Some of the reasons tantrums happen:
- Not understanding what you’re saying or asking the child to do
- Not knowing how to tell you what he feels
- Being sick and not being able to communicate feelings well
- Being hungry
- Uncomfortable or feeling anxiety
- Stressed over changes happening at home
- Not receiving enough attention so will seek it negatively.
- Frustration over not being able to do what she wants to be able to do physically
- Not being able to transition from one activity to another.
That’s a lot of things that can happen daily, so it makes sense that tantrums happen regularly for some children.
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When should I be concerned about my toddler’s temper tantrums?
If your child is having 5+ tantrums a day and they are lasting 10+ minutes, then you’ll want to seek the guidance of a care provider to rule out any other conditions.
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My two-year-old tantrums out of control. Should I discipline?
Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to have strong feelings you cannot express? You have no idea what the words are to describe your feelings, or you’re still in the process of learning how to do so, and things keep happening that anger you.
This brings me to punishing a child because of a tantrum.
Can you just imagine how it feels to being punished for not being able to do something you developmentally are not capable of doing?
You should avoid punishment when dealing with a tantrum. When you punish a child for their emotions, you essentially teach the child to hide their feelings. The child learns that their feelings are wrong.
Tantrums can be triggering. They are hard to observe, and they wear our patience. Plus, just because it’s normal childhood behavior does not mean moms have no positive parenting tools to deal with temper tantrums.
In positive parenting, you have techniques available to you to teach your child how to navigate this behavior so that they learn alternative ways to express themselves.
To start with, ask yourself these questions to better understand your child and their tantrums:
- When does the child have a tantrum?
- How long does it last?
- How often does the child have tantrums?
- What triggers a tantrum?
- What does the child do during the tantrum?
- What is the child's behavior like in between tantrums?
- Have there been any changes in the child's home or school situation such as a new sibling, a recent move, or parental conflicts?
- Is the child having any other behavioral problems accompanying the tantrums that might indicate something more happening than normal childhood behavior?
What to do when your child has a tantrum
1. Offering choices to a toddler is essential.
Remember that a tantrum can happen because the child feels frustrated about the situation or their lack of capabilities. For example, if your child is getting frustrated because they can’t figure out how to play with a toy, you can offer to help them or offer another toy that they can figure out.
When giving choices, be realistic about the options. You’ll want to provide opportunities that your child likes and also that you are satisfied.
When you give a choice to a toddler, you also are giving them the ability to make decisions and to feel they have a say in the situation, hence reducing the frustration of feeling out of control.
2. Teach your child self-soothing calming techniques
Teach your child self soothing techniques to use when he starts to get frustrated.
- Have your child take ten deep breaths inhaling from the nose, holding for two seconds, and exhaling from the mouth.
- Have your child fold herself like a pretzel, hugging her body and legs together and squeezing hard (this is a form of somatic therapy, where the child connects he’s mind and body)
- Ask your child to jump ten times. Movement brings endorphins, which help to calm the body.
- Have your child squeeze a stuffed animal or pillow. The squeeze and release help her body to relax.
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Also, teach your child “feelings” words. Describe to your child what certain feelings feel like and have a discussion about what they are experiencing. Teach them phrases such as frustrated, angry, sad, mad, irritated so that they can better understand what they are experiencing and have words to describe the feeling.
3. Stay calm during a temper tantrum.
Easier said than done, but if you both go into tantrum mode, who is the one that is going to help your child regulate their emotions? And believe me, I’m a mother of four, I know that tantrums can be hard to process as a parent.
A temper tantrum with your child is when you can reframe your thought process on the tantrum. Rather than telling yourself, “She just wants what she wants, and there’s no other way!” (Which can make you feel helpless and irritated), tell yourself, “She’s not able to tell me in words her feelings, and she’s getting frustrated.” Reframe how you view your child’s temper tantrums so that you can approach parenting from a calm state of mind.
Your calmness helps your child self-regulate. By watching you be calm, your child is receiving signals of how to navigate emotional disruptions.
4. Don’t try to reason with your child during a temper tantrum.
Many moms try to reason with their child in the middle of a tantrum. I’ll save you the headache of trying to do that by telling you that the child is incapable of having a cognitive discussion with you while they have lost control of their emotions. And no amount of reasoning with the child will change that.
Instead, wait it out. Be present, but do not nurture the tantrum. Simply continue with what you were doing. Once your child is over the tantrum, you can have a cognitive discussion about what caused it and teach them other ways to communicate.
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5. Eliminate temper tantrum triggers
One easy tool you have in your positive parenting toolbox is the ability to remove triggers that cause tantrums.
Keeping a consistent routine will help your child understand the expectations and the flow of the day. Make sure that your routine includes plenty of transition opportunities between activities. And that you have a consistent meal/snack schedule (tip: carry snacks like these with you when out and about)
Some triggers are not possible to remove. For example, let’s say your child gets very frustrated about wearing a shirt when they are going to the store (this is a real example of my child). Rather than saying, “Sorry, buddy, you have to wear a shirt, no shirt, no service!” You can instead validate that it sucks for him to wear a shirt, and he doesn’t have to wear one until right before we walk into the store, and he can take it off as soon as we get out.
Be proactive when it comes to removing triggers. Find what the triggers are, and problem-solve to find creative solutions. When you do this, you’ll find yourself experiencing a lot fewer tantrums.
6. Offer touch as a calming technique (oxytocin) when your child is getting frustrated.
Touch provides the body with oxytocin, a calming, feel-good hormone we experience as human beings.
Try lovingly touching your child when they begin to get frustrated and as you start to find solutions to avoid the tantrum.
During an actual tantrum, your child may not want your touch. Follow your child’s cue when it comes to touching during a tantrum. The exception is when you have to hold your child from hitting others or destroying things during a tantrum.
7. Take a time-in during a temper tantrum.
Some children recognize that during a tantrum, they may get what they wanted. After all, it’s why they are frustrated in the first place. Other children become disruptive to those around them. When these things happen, take your child to a time-in.
A time-in is different than a time-out in that you are with your child during this time. Remove yourself and the child from the current space you are in and into a more private, non-stimulating environment such as a bedroom or bathroom. If you’re out in public, you can find a more quiet space to let the tantrum past or head back to your car and let your child do the temper tantrum in the car with you.
A time-in is a form of self-care for your child’s emotions. By going with your child, you allow your child to reset while being present to help your child emotionally regulate.
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8. Don’t give in to a tantrum (aka negative reinforcement).
Whatever you do, as tempting as it may be, do not give in to a tantrum. Giving in to a tantrum, even once, reinforces the behavior to your child. By giving in, you teach your child to have a tantrum because when they do, they get what they want.
Resist the urge to give the child what they want so that you don’t have to hear the tantrum. (Again, I say this as a parent too, so I know this happens and it’s understandable) When you practice warm and authoritative positive parenting, you will see a reduction in tantrums and the frustration that comes with them.
Do all the above to stop or reduce the number of tantrums your child experiences, and should your child still have a tantrum, simply be present and calm and allow the tantrum to happen. Once it’s over, you can discuss with your child alternative ways to express themselves.