Why toddler tantrums happen, triggers to avoid, and how to cope when they occur.
Anything and everything can trigger a toddler tantrum: the wrong pair of socks, turning the page too quickly in a book, a broken biscuit, a kick from big brother… the list is endless. It helps if you understand why tantrums happen and how to keep your cool when your toddler has one.
“Remember that all children have tantrums,” says Lorraine Thomas of the Parent Coaching Academy and author of Screamer to Sweet Dreamer. “They’re not an indication of your success or failure as a parent but a natural part of a child growing up.”
“The best way to view a tantrum is as if it’s a blown fuse,” explains Penelope Leach, author of Your Baby and Child. “There’s usually been a build up of tension: frustration, anger, fear, confusion or simply tiredness, meaning even the smallest thing can trigger an almighty strop.”
The world can be a bewildering place for a toddler:
So sometimes these factors all become too much for your toddler.
There’s no set age when your toddler might start having tantrums. He could start from 18 months, or bypass the terrible twos, only to start throwing tantrums when he’s 3 or even 4.
Bear in mind that a tantrum’s not something your toddler can control, so although it may be alarming for you, it’s even more so for him. “Being out of control is terrifying,” says Penelope Leach. “He needs reassurance and help to manage his feelings.”
“Identify tantrum hot spots and triggers and try to make those situations less stressful,” suggests parent coach Lorraine Thomas.
Make sure you’re sensitive to your toddler’s needs and be realistic about what he can cope with:
Set clear rules so your child knows what’s expected of him, then be consistent to avoid confusing him.
I know just how frightening breath-holding tantrums can be, as our older daughter had them. We tried to avoid explosion points before a tantrum erupted and we encouraged her to control her temper. It didn’t always work, of course! The tantrums eventually stopped when she was around 4. Now she works as a paediatrician and has a baby of her own.
Dr Richard Woolfson, child psychologist
“Sometimes you can tell if a child is building to a tantrum and so can offer a distraction before he blows,” says Penelope Leach.
When you see that your toddler is getting worked up, stop what you’re doing and tune in to your child. “Rushing through a task before he explodes can be a recipe for disaster,” says Penelope.
“Lucy has just developed the habit of holding her breath when she’s having a tantrum. The first time it happened, my mum was looking after her. I’d rushed her a bit that morning, so she was flustered, then she fell and banged her head.
"She got so upset that she just stopped breathing and briefly made herself pass out. My mum was terrified. Lucy has done it a few times since, when something hasn’t gone her way or if she’s frustrated. I don’t think she does it consciously to alarm us, but it scares the living daylights out of me!”
Rimini, 32, mum to Lucy, 18 months, and Peter, 6 weeks
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