Taming Tantrums

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Dictionaries define a “tantrum” simply as “fit of bad temper” or “outbursts”. Honestly, Tantrums are normal and are a fact of toddler’s life, that’s virtually universal among the kids of this age, for some beginning as early as the end of first year, peaking for some in the second year and continuing in many kids beyond age four.

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But, the most important point to remember is that Toddler’s aren’t bad when they’re having tantrums – they’re just acting their age. Rather the fact is that kids of all ages and even adults throw tantrums. We all get frustrated at sometime for some or the other reason, only difference is as adults we have more control of environment around us and more practice dealing with frustrations, delaying gratification and annoying circumstances.

Realizing that tantrums are not the exclusive province of toddlers – and rather, a behaviour we’re all susceptible to sometimes – should help to put them in perspective.

Reasons for your Toddler’s Tantrums

  • Need to release frustration. The toddler’s strong drives for mastery and autonomy are continually stymied, either by adults or by their own limitations.I still remember my son used to shout when he couldn’t make a tower of blocks higher than himself. All such instances when kids try to do something and not able to accomplish make them feel incapable. Don’t you think its same reaction we also show when we’re not able to do our tasks, the only difference is we understand our limitations and ways to overcome it.
  • Need to express their feelings, needs and wishes. Most toddlers don’t yet the language skills to do this. For them, a tantrum speaks louder than words.Do you remember how you felt as a child when you strongly wished to buy something, and your mother said “No”. Toddlers go through similar feelings when they’re abstained from doing things they wanted to. I can see myself in my son and that helps me to understand him, but there are times when I loose my temper as well.
  • The need to assert themselves and to send the message “I am important. What I want counts”.We’ve already discussed in Emotional Development section, kids after completing their first year and accomplishing so many physical milestones, start feeling as independent individuals and try to do things on their own and show assertion, when denied something.
  • Lack of control over their lives. With the adults always telling them what to do and what not to do, a tantrum is the only way toddler can say “Enough. This is my life”.
  • Hunger, Exhaustion, over-stimulation and boredom.These are also the reasons which may affect an adult and toddlers are quite sensitive to these. You must have faced your toddler throwing a tantrum after a whole day outing while coming back, simply because they’re too tired and may be hungry to express.

Though virtually every toddler has a tantrum now and then, some are especially tantrum-prone. About 14% of one year olds, 20% of two or three year olds, and 11% of four year olds have what’s considered frequent tantrums.

Variety of Factors that can lead to more-frequent-than-average tantrums

  • Genetic Predisposition: Some children are born with temperamental qualities that predispose them to more frequent tantrums. For example: persistence or stubbornness: toddlers who are involved in some engaging activity find it impossible to leave it and get ready for any other activity let say going to school or going to bed, high intensity: kids with lot of energy and their reaction to anything is kicking or screaming. My son is a stubborn, it’s a ritual for me to get him ready for school, despite the fact he gets up quite early in the morning, we always end up running after the bus, simply because he gets into his toy room and want to play sometime before getting ready to school.
  • Extremes of Discipline: In a chronically permissive atmosphere conspicuously lacking in limits, children may ‘act out’ or misbehave in a cry for external control. In an overtly strict environment, the child may explode in hope of expanding boundaries that are too tight.
  • A history of Illness, chronic disabilities, or health problems. Parents are more likely to treat a child as ‘special’ who has some serious medical condition, who has been born after long period of trying. Because of lack of discipline and limits, these children may be prone to tantrums. Toddlers who are suffering from speech problems or hearing impaired and problems like autism or other serious developmental disability, may throw tantrums due to their lack of communication.
  • A parent-child personality clash. Let’s suppose you are outgoing but your child is shy, then you may wrongly push your child to get involved in outdoor activities. This frustration ad conflict in personality may result in tantrums.
  • Parental personal problems, such as depression, overwork, worry, illness or financial difficulties. Generally, such parental problems affect toddler so much due to parent’s affected mood that it result in tantrums.I remember that when I was working due to work pressure I started remaining quite irritated, that resulted in my son getting gloomy and grumpy. In order to get attention from me, he used to throw tantrums. But luckily, I understood the problem and handled it at the right time.
  • Divorced or Separate parents: The custodial parent may be overwhelmed by solo child-care chores and have little time for the toddler. In such cases the frustrated child may learn to use tantrums to control parents.

Now when we have understood the reasons, that why kids throw tantrums and at times more frequent tantrums, you must be wondering, if there is a way to handle these tantrums. The answer is “yes”, definitely there are ways, but before I start discussing them, a word of advice, you need to be patient, ready to give undivided attention to your toddler and maintain your calm while handling such situations. It’s easier said than done, but trust me it’s not impossible either.

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